India

Justice Leila Seth: Glimpses through a legal luminary's life

07 May 2017 | By Anupama Vijayakumar

Leila Seth, eminent jurist, India's first female Chief Justice of a High Court and mother of famous author Vikram Seth died from a cardiac arrest on Saturday night.

Seth has broken many glass ceilings in the legal profession and has made invaluable contributions to Indian jurisprudence particularly with respect to removing gender bias in laws.

Let us know more about this truly remarkable woman!

In context: Leila Seth: A life and death in service

07 May 2017Justice Leila Seth: Glimpses through a legal luminary's life

A farewell with no trappings

In an official statement, Seth's youngest son, Shantum, clarified that she would not have a funeral as she had pledged to donate her body for transplant and research. He added that a prayer meeting would be held in her honour on May 28.
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Of remarkable beginnings

IntroductionOf remarkable beginnings

Born in British India in Lucknow in 1930, Seth became the first woman to top the London Bar exam in 1958. She joined the bar and also graduated as an IAS officer in 1959.

Starting as a junior to former union law minister Ashoke Kumar Sen, she practised at the Patna HC for 10 years handling civil, criminal and matrimonial suits and writ petitions.

Leila Seth: The "Mother in law"

Along with becoming the first woman to top the London bar, Seth also became the first mother to do so. Following her topping the bar, a London newspaper referred to her as the "Mother-in-Law", along with a photo of her holding her baby son.

DetailsHighest in the high court!

Seth achieved another milestone 20 years into her career after she was appointed as the first woman judge of the Delhi HC in 1978.

She also went on to become the first woman ever to be appointed as a Chief Justice in 1991 when she became the 8th Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh HC.

InformationContribution to Indian jurisprudence

She was part of the 15th Law Commission of India, whose recommendations resulted in the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2000, which for the first time officially acknowledged daughters' rights in family property.

She was also part of the J.S.Verma Committee (2012) constituted after the Nirbhaya rape case to study and recommend changes to make sexual assault laws more effective.

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Books authoredA prolific writer

Her autobiography "On balance" published in 2003 discussing her early life and choice of law as a career became a best seller.

"We, the children of India", published in 2010, explains the Preamble of the Indian Constitution to young readers.

"Talking of Justice: People's Rights in Modern India" published in 2014 further looks into crucial legal issues she dealt with during her career.

On bringing gender justice to sexual assault laws in India

In "Talking of Justice", Seth discusses how in sexual offences both the perpetrator and victim could belong to any gender. Although the Verma committee pushed for something similar, the 2013 law adopted a gender-specific approach, assigning the man as perpetrator and woman as the victim.

ReactionsTributes pour in through tweets

Expressing his condolences, PM Modi tweeted that her "remarkable contributions" to law would be remembered.

Vice President Hamid Ansari noted, "she blazed a trail for women".

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in a tweet noted that she was a true champion of human rights, while Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association expressed her respect to Seth for championing LGBT rights.