Recently American Employment and Business oriented website LinkedIn floated with plights of Law Interns, sharing their experience of being sexually harassed by partners of law Firms, internship providers and others, it caused a huge uproar in the Legal Fraternity and huge outrage in sensitized members of the fraternity and also who is going to be part in near future.
The legal profession is highly dominated by few families as, the problem of the dynasty is a peculiarly Indian problem, due to mindset of facilitating offspring’s with a comfortable working environment and provide them well-set infrastructure, in such a situation, new-comers are largely empty, much vulnerable and move anyway from where they find a ray of hope and expectation of any good, such is with law students in a matter of internship, either with independent practicing lawyers or law firms, as Internships have been made an integral part of the curriculum and are highly required for good placements, that is why, interests are compromised, generally red flags raised are often ignored by interns and silence further emboldens accused.
Lot many colleges are offering 5-year law program to students, that students join immediately after Sr. Secondary, at the age of 18 in general, with underlying mental pressure to do more and more internship for better recruitments and getting exposure to diverse portfolios, new comers are trustworthy, full of enthusiasm and largely innocent, thus they ignore unwanted gestures, as a pat on chicks, sexiest jokes, handshakes and numerous other advances, in avidity of being part of the elitist system, this not only diminishes their trust in the legal profession, demotivates for litigation but on the other hand compels them to look career opportunity elsewhere.
This is not the problem only limited to the legal sphere but it’s much wider and all-pervasive, transcending geographical boundaries, generally occurring in power matrix, but lawyers are officers of the court and important contributors in justice delivery system and considered empowered and more legally sound, hence something like this could not at all be expected to be done by such elite section of society, but the reality is dark, Victoria University of New Zealand in 2018 confirmed its students were sexually assaulted at law Firm Russell McVeagh, In India, we have had law Interns levelling charges of Sexual Harassment against Retd Judges such as Justice Ganguly and Justice Swantanter Kumar, recently CJI Ranjan Gogoi was also accused of sexual harassment, India’s First women additional solicitor-general and first women to became Senior advocate of Bombay High Court, Indira Jaising shares her bitter experience of being sexually harassed in corridors of honourable Supreme Court of India.
The images of what’s app chats, coloured remarks floating on social media seem to be just the tip of the iceberg, rot appears to be much deeper, The problem with the current grievance mechanism is required to be addressed, Law Professions are much as unorganized sector hence answerability is much less, when compared with the organized sector, and due to that In absence of proper mechanism and fewer voices turning out with their grievance, due to lack of adequate knowledge is the major cause of subjection of law interns, largely interns are unaware about the applicability of POSH Act, 2013 and interns can also make complain to Local Complaint Committee constituted under Sec – 6 in case of Internal Complaint Committee is not setup, and mechanism of which, interns are largely aware is Indian Penal Code, Sec – 354, 509, which is lengthy, cumbersome and highly engaging, that de-motivate interns to take a bold step.
In the light of movement like #MeToo in the legal fraternity, now it’s time to institutionalize internship mechanism and provide a safe and healthy working environment to law interns with surety of their safety and security, the intent is no meaning if an object is underachieved, and objective can be made achieved by regularly holding seminars in court precincts, virtual webinars for law interns by bar Council of that particular district, for High Court by Bar Council of that respective High Court and by BCI at the level of Pan India and Supreme Court, informing interns about their legal rights and way how their grievance could be redressed without jeopardizing their personal and academic interest, Details of Interns to be submitted at Registrar of particular court and mechanism to make a complaint at Bar Council should be made easy and more approachable for law Interns.
By making some small changes we can tackle the Elephant in the room by holding the bull by its horn.