Leila Seth

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Hon'ble Justice
Leila Seth
Leila Seth.jpg
Seth in 2011
8th Chief Justice, Himachal Pradesh High Court
In office
5 August 1991 – 20 October 1992
Preceded by P. C. B. Menon
Succeeded by Shashi Kant Seth
Judge, Delhi High Court
In office
25 July 1978 – 4 August 1991
Personal details
Born (1930-10-20)20 October 1930
Lucknow, United Provinces, British India
Died 5 May 2017(2017-05-05) (aged 86)
Noida, India
Nationality Indian
Spouse(s) Prem Nath Seth
Children 3; including Vikram
Alma mater London
Profession Justice

Leila Seth (20 October 1930 – 5 May 2017) was the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court and she became the first woman to become Chief Justice of a state High Court on 5 August 1991.[1]


Leila Seth was born in Lucknow and was the first woman to top the London Bar exam in 1958. She joined the bar in 1959. In the same year she also graduated as an IAS officer. Upon topping the Bar in England, Seth was referred to as “Mother-in-Law” by a London newspaper, which carried a photograph of a young Leila Seth with her infant son, born only a few months before the exams. At the same time, other newspapers expressed their grief about how out of 580 students who took the Bar Exam, a married woman topped it.[1]

When in India, she was a junior to Ashoke Kumar Sen when she used to practice during his absence from the central cabinet of India. She handled a large number of Tax matters (Income Tax, Sales Tax, Excise and Customs), Civil, Company and Criminal cases as also Matrimonial suits and writ petitions. In 1978, she was appointed as the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court. In 1991, she was appointed the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh.

She died after suffering a cardio-respiratory attack on the night of 5 May 2017 at her residence in Noida, aged 86. She is survived by her husband, two sons and a daughter. As per her wishes no funeral was held since she donated her eyes and other organs for transplant or medical research purposes.[2][3]


Justice Seth was also a part of various enquiry commissions, one of which was responsible for studying the effects of the television serial, Shaktiman (about a popular superhero) on children. Shaktiman was a popular TV series for children and it was the center of controversy because many children set themselves on fire or threw themselves off buildings hoping that Shaktiman would come and rescue them.[4]

She was also part of an enquiry into the death of businessman Rajan Pillai, known as the “Biscuit Baron”, who was found dead in police custody. She was also part of the Law Commission of India until 2000, and was responsible for the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act which gave equal rights to daughters in joint family property.[citation needed] She was part of the judicial committee headed by J. S. Verma, a former Judge of Supreme Court, to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases following the Nirbhaya case.[citation needed]


Seth's autobiography was published by Penguin India in 2003. In On Balance, she talks about her early years of homelessness and struggle, her straying into law while in England with her husband Prem, and later practising in Patna, Calcutta and Delhi; and her happy marriage of over fifty years, including the experience of bringing up three children: writer Vikram Seth, peace activist Shantum and film-maker Aradhana. In 2010, she wrote We, The Children of India, which explains the words of the Indian preamble to younger readers. This was followed by Talking of Justice: People's Rights in Modern India, in 2014, in which she discusses several critical issues she has dealt with in her expansive legal career.

Further reading[edit]