By Vikas Datta
With crimes against women a feature in the developed as well as developing world, there is a pressing need for more female presence in the bench and bar to ensure proper consideration and justice to the victims, says a prominent British woman jurist.
“Courts hear matters of rape, domestic violence, harassment from (the perspective of) male experience... and the victims are shamed and blamed.
“There is a prevailing perception that these women are not good enough or have brought the trouble on themselves,” says Baroness Hele Kennedy, a Queen’s Counsel, and a human rights law, civil liberty and constitutiol expert who has been involved in many high-profile crimil cases for over three decades.
The eminent lawyer has written about this aspect in “Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice” (1993) which argues that women taking recourse to law face judges’ prejudices, jurors’ misconceptions, labyrinthine court procedures and media influence. She said this was due to the fact that women were not represented adequately in the institution.
“There is a lack of women.. it was only recently (in October 2017) that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom got its second woman judge (Jill Black) while a woman was elected its President (Brenda Marjorie Hale).
“Women lawyers are also less. Most chambers don’t even have a single woman member and after the law requiring that they must have one at least, they have complied with it — to have just one,” Baroness Kennedy, who was here for a literary festival, told IANS in an interview. She noted that the situation was similar in India.
She also stressed that just one or two appointments wouldn’t make a difference, and it is also seen that the women selected or promoted are those “whom men feel comfortable with, women who are not difficult”.
“The system is itself the problem, since its run mostly by men.
“We don’t need just one or two women... a quantum leap is needed,” said Kennedy, who has also written and broadcast on a wide range of issues, including rights of women and children.
She also contended that women also suffer in crimes against them with even police not seeing them as “serious crimes”.
And domestic violence is not limited to tradition-bound societies but also crops up in many parts of the developed world.
She also noted the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and the Jimmy Savile scandal earlier in her own country, where the DJ, television and radio persolity faced multitudes of complaints after his death in 2011, had also “opened up the problems of abuse at the workplace” and this was also due to the lack of women in top positions.
“These are more vile as women are more powerless, very vulnerable... There are only a few women in top positions, say Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, but there is no women among the billioires,” she said.
But Kennedy said that she was hopeful that the future would be different.
“Women are increasingly going into higher education... they are not standing for lower status, they are more confident, more expressive. It is also needed that good men call out against it... there are already men who treat women as equals in workplaces.
“It won’t happen overnight... but will, with cumulative effect, become a tsumi,” she said. (IANS)
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)