Justice Leila Seth Fellowship

Her Legacy

Legacy Hero
In her long and remarkable career, Justice Leila Seth carved a legacy far greater than the sum of her many parts. She was a visionary not only in her approach to the law but in all aspects of social justice.

The first woman to top the Bar exam of England & Wales in 1957, the first woman judge in the Delhi High Court, and the first woman Chief Justice of a State High Court (Himachal Pradesh). Her chosen path was to bring the ideals of the Constitution to life. While Justice Seth believed in the power of legal literacy to raise rights awareness, she knew that the law is a springboard; it is people and movements that bring change.

In her lifetime, she saw the tide turn – women demanded rights, and the chain of awareness, assertion, attitudinal change, and action inched forward. Justice Seth fought diverse cases including on constitutional law, criminal law, and tax matters – unusual for the few women practising at the time. Some of her landmark work includes recommendations to the 15th Law Commission of India, resulting in the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2000, which acknowledged the daughters' right to family property. In 2012, she was also part of the JS Verma Committee, constituted to bring justice to victims of sexual assault. Justice Seth wrote her autobiography – On Balance (2003), a children’s book on the Constitution of India – We, The Children of India (2010), and Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India (2014), which engages with the issues she dealt with across the five decades of her career.


  • Leila Seth is born in Lucknow

    20 October 1930

  • Graduates from Loreto Convent, Darjeeling


  • Six-month secretarial course from St Helena’s Convent, Kurseong


  • Marries Premo Seth

    March 1951

  • Vikram Seth is born

    June 1952

  • Moves to London

    May 1954

  • Shantum Seth is born

    April 1957

  • Becomes the first woman to top the Bar exam for England & Wales and is christened 'Mother-in-Law' in Star, a London newspaper


  • Works as a junior in the chambers of Sachin Chaudhuri in Patna


  • Starts practising in the Patna High Court as one of only two women advocates


  • Aradhana Seth is born


  • Starts work as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court


  • Practises as an advocate and then as a senior advocate at the Delhi High Court

    1972 to 1978

  • Appointed first woman judge at the Delhi High Court

    March 1978

  • Appointed Acting Chief Justice of Delhi High Court

    September 1990

  • Appointed Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court

    1991 to 1992

  • Member of the commission to investigate custodial death of Rajan Pillai


  • Spearheads campaign to give daughters inheritance rights over ancestral property in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, as a member of the 15th Law Commission

    1997 to 2000

  • Member of the Justice Verma Committee, a panel set up to reform and strengthen the anti-rape law in India