Justice Hima Kohli, who took over as the first woman chief justice of Telangana High Court on Thursday, during her virtual farewell from the Delhi High Court said that the hallmark of a good lawyer was dedication, discipline and sincere advice to clients. However she said for a woman lawyer, the “notch” was a bit higher.
Kohli, who has always loved challenging the boundaries of gender stereotypes, prejudice and bias, said during her farewell, “Dedication, discipline, constant updation of laws, honest & sincere advice to clients, and carrying the trust of the court are the hallmarks of a good lawyer, whether male or female. It is just that the notch is a bit higher for a woman practitioner"
While her career of over three decades achieved yet another milestone on Thursday, her rise to power had the humble beginnings of an 'outsider' without a legal background.
After she received her post-graduate degree in history from Delhi's St. Stephen's College, Justice Kohli wanted to become an IAS officer. She enrolled herself for the LLB program at Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi even as she was preparing for the civil services examination. It was there that she realised she wasn't cut out to become a bureaucrat, but a criminal lawyer.
Justice Kohli registered herself with the Bar Council of India in 1984 with an ambition to become a criminal lawyer, drawing inspiration from high-packed courtroom dramas written by Earl Stanley. But the reality was far different from the fictional world. After countless visits to the Patiala House court, Justice Kohli changed the course of her career.
"Nothing could be starker than seeing those wooden tables chained to each other and set in rows after rows under leaky tin sheds, with touts floating all over the place and stray dogs having a run of the place. Thus came crashing the dream of making criminal practice my forte. Instead, I was packed off to the safe civil side and advised to join a senior advocate to gain experience," Justice Kohli said while addressing a gathering organised by the Society of Women Lawyers in 2011.
Within a decade, Justice Kohli was appointed the Standing Counsel in the Delhi High Court. She was designated additional judge of the Delhi High Court in 2006 before being sworn in as a permanent judge in August 2007.
Her colleagues at the Delhi High Court, where she served 14 years on the bench, called her one of the brightest stars in the legal fraternity.
"I've had the privilege and honour of appearing before Justice Hima Kohli several times. She is one of the swiftest and efficient judicial minds that I had the fortune of witnessing. She will be missed here", said Ashwarya Sinha, advocate-on-record practicing in the Supreme Court.
Most of her judgments have been dubbed farsighted for the impact that they have made on ground. This includes the Delhi High Court order to do away with mandatory prescription from a doctor to do RT-PCR tests, thereby directing the state government to ramp up Covid-19 testing facilities. Justice Kohli is also credited for promoting mediation as a substitute form of dispute resolution when it comes to setting family disputes.
Her elevation as Telangana's third chief justice is significant in more ways than one. The glass ceiling faced by women advocates is gradually, but surely crumbling and their rise to the top echelons of power is not an unachievable target. In Justice Hima Kohli's words- "the pendulum has swung the other way"