Raising the bar

Print edition : May 25, 2018

ON April 27, when Indu Malhotra was sworn in to the Supreme Court, India got its seventh woman judge in nearly seven decades. Senior Advocate Indu Malhotra’s direct elevation from the Bar to the Supreme Court as a judge was considered historic. It was hailed as a positive step towards gender justice in the judiciary. The top court of the country, with a strength of 25 judges, has only one woman judge—R. Banumathi, who was appointed in 2014. With Justice Indu Malhotra’s appointment, that number went up to two. Her name was cleared by the Supreme Court Collegium.

With this elevation, Indu Malhotra became only the seventh woman judge of the Supreme Court since Independence. Justice Fathima Beevi was the first woman judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court. It was in 1989, 40 years after the court was set up. After that, Justice Sujata V. Manohar, Justice Ruma Pal, Justice Gyan Sudha Misra and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai presided as judges in the Supreme Court. All of them, however, were appointed from the High Courts, which made Justice Indu Malhotra the first woman lawyer to be appointed directly from the Bar to the bench. Earlier, Senior Advocate and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium was recommended to be appointed as judge straight from the top court’s Bar. But his recommendation was marred by controversy as the government returned his recommendation.

The 61-year-old Justice Indu Malhotra had been practising for more than three decades, mostly in the Supreme Court. Known for her expertise in law arbitration, she was an empanelled arbitrator with bodies such as the Indian Council of Arbitration, the Delhi International Arbitration Centre and ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India). She came out recently with the third edition of her book on the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, called The Law and Practice of Arbitration in India, published by Thomson Reuters in 2014. She represented statutory bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. The public interest litigations credited to her name were to do with issues of social justice such as the punishment awarded by the courts in rape cases, the protection of women make-up artists in the film industry, and defining the guidelines for a Good Samaritan law in India for bystanders or others who choose to help road accident victims.

Justice Indu Malhotra comes from a family of lawyers. Her father, Om Prakash Malhotra, was a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court and an author who has written books on the law relating to industrial disputes and two volumes on the Law of Arbitration and Conciliation. Born in 1956 in Bengaluru, Indu Malhotra was the youngest child in her family. Her elder brother and sister are also in the legal profession. Having moved to Delhi in her formative years, she did her schooling from Carmel Convent. She graduated in political science from Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi University and received her master’s degree from the same University. She completed her LLB from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University, and had short stints in teaching at Miranda House and Vivekananda College.

She started her legal profession in 1983 and was an apprentice with P.H. Parekh for three years. In 1988, she qualified as an Advocate-on-Record in the Supreme Court, emerging a topper in the examination. From 1991 to 1996 she was the Standing Counsel for Haryana in the Supreme Court. She was appointed a Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court in August 2007, becoming only the second woman to be designated that, the first being Leila Seth in 1977. The selection procedure for a Senior Advocate is tough and requires the unanimous agreement of all the judges. Even if one judge disagrees, the application can be rejected.

She is a trustee on the board of the SaveLIFE Foundation. It is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which works in the area of preventing road accidents and formulating a system for providing immediate post-accident response to save the lives of the victims. She represented the NGO in a case that resulted in the Supreme Court issuing a number of directions to protect Good Samaritans who save lives in road accidents. She represented the NGO in the Supreme Court in the legal battle for striking down a provision in the Motor Vehicles Rules which allowed protruding rods to be carried in trucks, a major cause of fatalities. Based on her plea, the Centre imposed a ban on vehicles carrying protruding rods or protruding load from March 2014.

She was instrumental in the court’s July 2015 landmark verdict that unmarried mothers could have legal guardianship of their children without the father’s consent. In 2012, Indu Malhotra made a plea for setting up complaint committees in courts to examine incidents of sexual harassment of female advocates in court complexes. Subsequently, the Supreme Court formed a 10-member sexual harassment committee, of which she was a member.

In an interview to LawZ magazine, Justice Indu Malhotra had said that judgeship and advocacy were two sides of the same coin. “I think that judgeship and advocacy are two sides of a coin. Each has its separate challenges. It would be unfair to compare both and say which is more challenging. For an advocate, every case is a new challenge. It is an opportunity to learn new areas of law. At the same time, you need to make a good presentation of your case before the court. A lawyer needs to be extremely thorough with his brief before he steps into the courtroom. So a lot of hard work and preparation are needed before one addresses the court,” she said.

“Similarly the same kind of hard work goes for the judges as well. On a Monday or a Friday, a Supreme Court judge has to read at least 60-70 files. This again is a difficult situation. A lawyer may be preparing at best 10-15 cases a day. But judges are reading and preparing at least 50 cases a day on admission hearing. To sit and work continuously for hours also needs tremendous strength, both physical and mental. Legal profession is such where you cannot work by your watch. One has to work 24×7. As such, be it advocacy or judgeship, tremendous hard work and sincerity is required to be successful,” she said.

Divya Trivedi

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