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Thought senior counsel had an old-boys club? Try bar councils where only 3% of members are women (and most have none)

Eight out of 12 bar councils do not have a single female member, making for an average female representation of 2.8 per cent amongst the bar councils for which data was available, revealed our research.

We visited the websites of some of the leading state bar councils as well as the Bar Council of India (BCI) and compiled the data (see below), which shows that there is not a single female member appointed or elected into the BCI, and the bar councils of Punjab & Haryana, Gujarat, Bihar, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry, Maharashtra & Goa, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.

However, the bar councils of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi had two female members each, making up around 7 per cent of their roughly 30 members. At the Karnataka bar council there was one female member out of 25 total members.

The problem of female under-representation is even worse than the percentages of women designated to the senior counsel ranks since 2006 in the Bombay and Delhi high courts: around 6 per cent in Bombay and around 8 per cent in Delhi.

The bar council figures are also far worse than recent figures at the Supreme Court, where 12.5 per cent of senior counsel in the last 23 years were women (though between 1996 and 2013, one two women had been designated at the Supreme Court).

Read more: Our research on senior designations in high and supreme courts since 1992.

A recent PIL requested action on the issue

Our research follows the Bombay high court on 5 July having accepted an undertaking by the BCI, which promised to take a view on women’s under-representation in state bar councils within eight weeks.

The Bombay high court had on 5 July disposed of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Bombay Lawyers Association seeking directions to provide for a 30 per cent reservation for female lawyers in bar councils by amending the Advocates Act 1961 and making changes to the Bar Council of India Rules.

The Union of India, the BCI, and the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa were the respondents in the case.

The petitioner, after filing the petition, had made a representation to the Centre on the issue. The Union Ministry of Law and Justice had forwarded the representation to the BCI seeking its views and comments.

The high court bench comprising justices AS Oka and AA Sayed, disposed it of on the basis of the undertaking given by the BCI that it would take a view on the plea of the petitioner, within eight weeks.

However, the bench was reluctant to provide relief as prayed for, because it would require amendments to Advocates Act and the court could not issue such a direction.

The bench’s near-instant acceptance of the BCI’s undertaking on the issue, disposing of the petition without waiting for its reply to the Centre, raises doubts whether the petitioner’s prayer was even partially answered.

Bar associations?

The petition also sought reforms in the membership of both bar councils and bar associations.

Membership information is not readily available for most bar associations.

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has 4 female members out of 21 in its governing body (around 20 per cent).

The All India Bar Association has only 1 female member out of 20 (5 per cent).

The BLA’s petition said that there was no legal impediment in reserving a representation for women, as Article 15(3) of the Constitution permitted special provisions for women.

The petition specifically mentioned Sections 3(2) (b), 4, 6(1) (c), (d), (dd), (e) and 15 of the Advocates Act, 1961 which would require amendment, if the UOI agreed with the suggestion for 30 per cent reservation of female advocates in bar councils and bar associations.

The BCI’s response to the suggestion, after eight weeks, may prove interesting.

Bar Council of… Total members Women Percentage women
Punjab & Haryana 27 0 0
Gujarat 27 0 0
Bihar 26 0 0
Tamil Nadu & Puducherry 26 0 0
India (BCI) 19 0 0
Maharashtra & Goa 6 0 0
Rajasthan 4 0 0
Uttarakhand 3 0 0
Karnataka 25 1 4.0
Uttar Pradesh 30 2 6.7
Andhra Pradesh 27 2 7.4
Delhi 27 2 7.4
Total 247 7 2.8
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