The Legal Practitioner’s (Women) Act, 1923.

The Legal Practitioner’s (Women) Act was passed in the year 1923. it was only in 1846 that all duly qualified irrespective of nationality or religion were able to enter into the legal profession. Women were still excluded from the profession at this stage, to be thereafter admitted through the Legal Practitioner’s (Women) Act, III of 1923. The act regarding practising law profession still excluded women from entering the profession as it did not make any reference to women in the act. The Legal Practitioner’s (Women) Act formally allowed women entry into the profession. It abolished the bar on women from practising law. The Indian women were granted the right to choose legal profession and practice as Advocates in the Courts of Law. This fight was pioneered by Cornelia Sorabji. Prior to this, women due to their illiteracy and ignorance were easily duped by the legal people or their touts. Their reserve nature was inculcated and strengthened by customs and culture. They were not able to exercise their right over their own properties. Though initially only a handful of women joined the profession as Advocates this reformative measure ignited the spirit of pleading for the cause of another before the Courts. That the laws could be utilised for obtaining social justice and repressive laws could be overthrown for further development, and that women could do it for themselves and others as well was an eye-opener to the Indian society of pre-independence times. 

The challenge before women to enter into legal profession was significant and made a case for their entry to heal Indian women. They wanted to represent the Indian women. In many cases, judges opined that women were not ‘persons’ for the purpose of entering the legal profession. Regina Guha’s case was the first woman’s case. After obtaining a Bachelor of Law degree, Guha applied for admission to be enrolled as pleader in the Alipore district court. The application was examined by the court. Regina contended that since under the General Clauses Act, “words importing the masculine gender shall be taken to include female”, the rules under the Legal Practitioners Act, although referring in terms to men, would include women.In response, barrister Eardley Norton, a civil rights advocate, the bench responded that at the time the Legal Practitioners Act was passed, “there had never been a case of a lady being allowed to practice in the Indian courts”. The Legal Practitioners Act made no reference to women. In another case, Hazra applied to Calcutta University, seeking permission to appear as a private candidate in the preliminary examination of law.  Calcutta University transferred her application to Patna University. Her application was refused on the ground that she had not attended regular law lectures.Calcutta University finally granted her permission to appear as a private candidate in the preliminary law examination. In 1921, after obtaining a Bachelor of Law degree from Calcutta University, she applied to be enrolled as a pleader in the Patna district court.  The Patna high court judges delivered upholding the position in Regina Guha that in spite of the provisions of the General Clauses Act of 1868 and 1897, a woman, although fully qualified, was not entitled to a certificate under the Legal Practitioners’ Act to act as a pleader because of her sex. She was not a ‘person’.

By this time, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was passed in England that allowed women to enter the legal profession.  At the same time, the Allahabad high court allowed Cornelia Sorabji to be enrolled as a vakil. With the Patna high court judgment, a concerted campaign to amend the Legal Practitioners’ Act began. In 1922, Narayan Malhar Joshi moved a resolution proposing amendment of the Legislative Assembly Electoral Rules to remove sex disqualification in the matter of registration on the electoral roll, Gour introduced a resolution to remove sex-based disqualification in the legal profession as an amendment to Joshi’s resolution.The Legal Practitioners (Women) Act was finally passed in 1923, removing the disqualification affirming that “no woman shall, by reason only of her sex, be disqualified from being admitted or enrolled as a legal practitioner or from practising as such”. 

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