The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Bar Council of India (BCI) in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking social security measures for women lawyers such as safety in courts, maternity benefits and age-old pension.
The plea, filed by advocate Indu Kaul on behalf of Kumud Lata Das. It sought formulation of measures by the apex bar body in coordination with state bar councils to ensure that women lawyers are strengthened. It was examined by 3-judge bench including Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The petition requested for emphasis on the safety and security of women. It said,
“Gender disparity cannot be overlooked in the legal profession where any successful lady advocat is attributed motives for her success which can be as hurting as her character assassination. Safety and security ought to be made the first priority. Lady advocates will withhold themselves from contesting elections of bar associations and bar councils as her male colleagues envy her success from the very first day,”
It also raised concerns for provisions for a pension scheme post-retirement. As per the BCI Model Scheme, at the retirement age of 60, a lady lawyer’s practice diminishes due to which she is unable to provide for her family who is under the impression that being an advocate she must be capable of earning her livelihood
The petition noted recent incidents of violence against woman advocates including the murder of advocate Darvesh Yadav after being elected as first woman chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Bar Council. She was shot dead by a male colleague in the premises of Agra district Court last month. It said the BCI, instead of compensating Yadav’s family out of its own Advocate Welfare’ Fund, issued a press release demanding the compensation from the state government.
The petitioner mentioned the Advocates Welfare Fund Act, 2001. Its objective was to provide financial assistance to lawyers and welfare scheme for indigent or disabled advocates. It envisioned the formation of a welfare fund for the benefit of advocates. 19 years since it’s commencement none of the schemes or social security measures provided in the act have been enacted.
“Bar Councils from different states and BCI collect a huge amount of money on the sale of Advocates’ Welfare Stamp affixed mandatorily on every Vakalatnama irrespective of the fact that the case is criminal, jail petition, of women, old and indigent persons and/or PIL… BCI as a statutory body is bound to formulate social security measures for providing financial assistance which is a part of it as a body corporate to bear the corporate social responsibility,” the petition submitted.