Sujata V. Manohar
|Judge Supreme court of India|
8 November 1994 – 27 August 1999
|Chief Justice Kerala High Court|
21 April 1994 – 07 November 1994
|Chief Justice Bombay High Court|
15 January 1994 – 20 April 1994
|Judge Bombay High Court|
23 January 1978 – 14 April 1994
|Born||28 August 1934
|Parents||Justice K.T. Desai (father)|
|Education||B.A. (Oxon.), Barrister-at-Law|
|Alma mater||Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford|
|Website||Supreme Court of India|
Early life and education
Ms. Manohar was born into a family with a strong legal background – her father would later become the second Chief Justice of the High Court of Gujarat. She graduated from Elphinstone College, Bombay, and then went toLady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
After Oxford, she was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn having simultaneously passed all papers in Parts 1 & 2 of the Bar Exam. She returned to India where she began practice in 1958 on the original side of the High Court of Bombay. She dealt primarily with commercial matters, but also took many family law cases under legal aid schemes. This was before India had a formal state legal aid programme, so she voluntarily associated herself with over 30 non-governmental organisations.
After around 20 years of practice, which included a substantial amount of public interest and pro-bono work, she was appointed a judge of the High Court of Bombay in 1978, the first woman judge of that court. In January, 1994, she was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court of Bombay, the first woman to hold that post. In April, 1994, she was transferred as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Kerala, again the first woman to hold that post. At the end of 1994 (November), after 16 years as a High Court judge, she was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of India, the highest Indian court, from which post she retired in 1999.
As a judge, she took a strongly independent stance, defending the rule of law against political and public pressures. In one case, she was called upon to decide on the constitutionality of one aspect of India’s affirmative action programme. The government of the day proposed to require Universities to implement a system of quotas for admission to research degrees. This meant that available places would be parcelled out to students based on their caste and religion, not just on their merit. Justice Manohar ruled this unconstitutional, despite a strong backlash from certain interest groups, who, in a show of public umbrage, burnt her effigy.
After her retirement, she was appointed to the National Human Rights Commission, from where she retired in 2004. She is an honorary fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and an honorary bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, London. She is also a patron of the Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal.
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