Supreme Court Justice Hima Kohli said that the Indian justice delivery system has long stood as a bastion of equity, equality, and access to justice for all as this system seeks to ensure fairness, impartiality and justice in the distribution of benefits and burdens.
She held that the Constitution of India guarantees the right to justice as a fundamental right and the Indian judiciary has played a pivotal role in upholding this promise. The subject of this address is the concept of equity and how the courts have ensured fairness and impartiality in the justice delivery system.
The Justice was speaking on the International Women’s Day organised on the theme: Embracing Equity in Justice Delivery System 2023 at the Indian society of International law.
During her speech justice explained that the word “Equity” has not been mentioned in the Constitution. Yet it permeates the very essence of a fair justice delivery system. “Equity” is not recognized as a constitutional principle in the Indian legal context but as a consequence of meticulous and discretionary judicial scrutiny and interpretation
Talking about the principle of equity the Justice said that Equity is the Golden Rule that is imbued in the very soul of the Indian justice delivery system. It stands for fairness, egalitarianism, impartiality and a just distribution of benefits and burdens. The principle of equity ensures that justice is delivered fairly and impartially. While the Constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right to equality and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, the principle of equity is that natural law recognized by courts which ensures that all individuals are treated equally under the law .
Talking about the role of a Indian judiciary on promoting equity,Justice said that The Indian judiciary has played a pivotal role in promoting equity in the justice delivery system. The power of judicial review exercised by the Supreme Court and the High Courts allows them to strike down any law or executive action that violates the Constitution or the fundamental rights of the citizens bestowed under the Constitution and expanded through time by meaningful judicial interpretation.
While talking on Access to Justice,she said that Data reveals that in the current financial year, from April to December 2022, 3.88 lakhs Legal Awareness Programmes have been organized by NALSA and SLSAswhich have been attended by 5.74 crores persons; 2,16,234 persons were extended legal aid through Panel Lawyers; 4,69,275 persons were given legal advice and counselling and 1,97,472 persons were benefitted through other legal services.
Justice Kohli said that Data reveals that in the current financial year, from April to December 2022, 3.88 lakhs Legal Awareness Programmes have been organized by NALSA and SLSAswhich have been attended by 5.74 crores persons; 2,16,234 persons were extended legal aid through Panel Lawyers; 4,69,275 persons were given legal advice and counselling and 1,97,472 persons were benefitted through other legal services.
As the program was organised on the Women’s Day,Justice Kohli spoke about some historical judgements pertaining to women.She mentioned a few ;
1. Vishaka’s case which was a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in 1997. It dealt with the issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace and recognized it as a violation of the fundamental right to equality guaranteed under the Indian Constitution.
2. Akella Lalitha v. Konda Hanumantha Rao and Another, where the Supreme Court has declared that a mother, being the sole natural guardian of her child, has the authority to determine the child’s surname. Even after the death of her first husband, she cannot be prevented from including her child in her new family and selecting a surname for the child.
The Courthas also asserted that the natural guardian possesses the power to give the child up for adoption.
3. Air India Cabin Crew Assn. v. Yeshawinee Merchant and Others Case. In this case the Supreme Court while acknowledging the fact that the Constitution forbids the State from discriminating against citizens based solely on their gender,clarified that this prohibition does not prevent employers from providing special treatment to women in employment if they request it.
4. Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) v. State of Maharashtra and Others Case. In this case, which is popularly known as the Dance Bar case , Supreme Court dealt with the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Obscene Dance in Hotels, Restaurant and Bar Rooms and Protection of Dignity of Women (working therein) Act, 2016 (Dance Act) and the Rules framed thereunder. The case challenged conditions imposed under the Dance Act.
The Supreme Court held that the applications for the grant of a licence should be considered with an open mind and without imputing any moral standard so that there would not be a complete ban on staging dance performances at designated places. It was declared that an absolute ban on dance performances in bars throughout the state was illegal and infringed upon the fundamental rights protected under Articles 14, 19(1)(a), 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution.
4. A recent and immensely significant milestone is the decision of the Supreme Court to provide a Permanent Commissionto women who were earlier offered only Short Service Commissions in the Indian Armed Forces. This landmark judgement that emanated from a judgment of the Delhi High Court rendered in the year 2010 and was finally upheld by the Supreme Court in the year 2020, has highlighted the importance of fairness and equality in all spheres of the Armed Forces, including the process of commissioning and promotion.
5. In January 2022, the Supreme Court, through its decision in Arunachala Gounder(dead) v. Ponnuswamy case determined that the self-acquired property of a Hindu male who dies without leaving a will would be inherited, rather than succeeded, and his daughter would have the right to inherit such property. This decision reflects a succession scheme that prioritizes the daughter’s right to her father’s separate property, in line with the principle of proximity and equity.
The Justice said that as we celebrate the International Day of Women, it is a time for us to reflect, not just on the 8th March of every year, but throughout the year, on the role that equity plays in achieving true justice and equality in our society.
Equity is the cornerstone of a just and fair society, where every individual gets the same opportunities, resources and benefits, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. It is the cardinal principle that ensures that everyone is treated fairly and impartially and that no one is left behind in the growth of society. It is a recognition of the fact that women, who constitute almost 50% of the total population in India and are going to dominate the workforce in the next few decades, are given their place under the Sun; that they enjoy equal rights and privileges at par with men; that they are not oppressed, mentally, physically or emotionally; that they are empowered to fight for the goals they choose to set for themselves; that their dreams can take wings and that they can freely march to the beat of their own drum.