First woman judge of Delhi High Court passes away at 86

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Justice Leila Seth passes away at 86
Justice Leila Seth passes away at 86

Noida : Justice Leila Seth, the first woman judge of Delhi High Court who played a major role in making of the tough anti-rape law five years ago, died here on Friday night. She was 86.

"Justice Leila Seth passed away on Friday night around 10.30 p.m. after suffering a cardio respiratory attack," a family member told IANS on Saturday.

She is survived by her husband, two sons, including well-known writer Vikram Seth, and a daughter.

Born in 1930 in Lucknow, she was also selected for the IAS in 1959, but in pursuit of a legal career, joined the London Bar.

She began her law practice in 1959 in Patna as one of only two women lawyers practising in the high court there. She practised law there for about ten years and handled a number of tax matters, civil and criminal cases, matrimonial suits and writ petitions.

In 1978, Justice Seth became the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court and in 1991, she was appointed the first woman Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned her demise, saying her remarkable contribution to the legal field will be remembered.

"Saddened by the passing away of Justice Leila Seth. Her remarkable contribution to the legal field will be remembered," he said.

Vice President Hamid Ansari, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, among others, expressed grief over her death.

Apart of a committee along with former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, set up to suggest amendments to the criminal law to deal with heinous crimes like rape after the December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya case, Justice Seth also served on various enquiry commissions, one of which was responsible for studying the effects of the popular television serial, "Shaktiman", on children.

She was a member of the Law Commission of India from 1997 to 2000 and was also responsible for recommending the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act which gave equal rights to daughters in joint family property.

Justice Seth was part of an enquiry into the death of businessman 'Biscuit Baron' Rajan Pillai, who was found dead in police custody in Delhi in mid 90s.

An author of calibre too, she wrote her autobiography "On Balance" in 2003 in which she talks about her early years, taking up law, and her family life among other things. Justice Seth wrote another book in 2010 "We, The Children of India" for young readers.

In 2014, she wrote "Talking of Justice: People's Rights in Modern India", in which she discusses several critical issues she has dealt with in her expansive legal career.

Justice Seth was always been vocal about the issues of human rights, gender and the rights of the marginalised, including prisoners, children, the LGBT community, and advocated Uniform Civil Code for Muslims to better secure the rights of Muslim women.

She had expressed displeasure on Supreme Court judgment in December 2013 that had struck down the Delhi High Court judgment decriminalising consensual sex among adult homosexuals.

"The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalise the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane," Justice Seth had said.