Leila Seth, the first woman judge on the Delhi high court and a first woman chief justice of a high court was born on October 20, 1930. She started her career in 1959 in Patna High Court as a young London-trained barrister, and spent 10 years there, seeking a foothold in a men-dominated field of career.
Seth was the first woman from India to have topped the London Bar exam, and her younger son Shantum Seth was born there while she was studying after her marriage.
Who is Leila Seth?
Leila Seth was known to be a successful member of the Indian Judiciary. She was born in October 1930 to a family that was delighted to have a girl after having two boys. Her father worked in the Imperial Railway Service. According to several reports, Leila always stated that the bond between her father and her was a special one, and so her family was devastated when she lost him at the mere age of 11.
Seth, who broke many a glass ceiling in the legal field, was the first woman from India to have topped the London Bar exam, the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court, and also the first woman chief justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh). She started her legal practice at the Patna High Court, where she spent 10 years from till 1969 before moving to Delhi. Her husband, Premo Seth, worked in the private sector.
In 1995 she was appointed as a one-member commission to examine the death in custody of Rajan Pillai and to suggest improvements in medical facilities of prisoners. She was a member of the 15th Law Commission of India (1997-2000) and co-authored the report suggesting amendments to the Hindu Succession Act giving equal rights to daughters in joint family property.
In 2014 she authored ‘Talking of Justice: People’s rights in modern India’ which has been well received. She has also written ‘We, the Children of India’ explaining the preamble of the Indian Constitution to its younger citizens. It has been translated into Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, and Telegu and also produced in Braille. Her autobiography, On Balance, (2003) is a remarkable work that invited the attention of both ordinary readers and scholars.
Justice Seth had been a strong supporter of the gay rights movement. Her disapproval of Section 377 is known to the world as is her belief that “gay child needs more love.”
Leila Seth died on May 5, 2017, at the age of 86 due to cardiac arrest a day after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of the four convicts in the Jyoti Singh rape case.