It was in the long tradition of retiring judges when Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman sat with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana in Court No. 1. It was a day with mix feelings amongst different stakeholders. Though even before being picked up for direct elevation from the bar to be on the bench of the highest court in the land, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman was known to be extremely meticulous lawyer but the high standards set by him when he was on the bench will be remembered for a long time to come.
The usual goers to the Supreme Court would recall that it is not every day that you find a judge who is having patient ears for any good cause of justice, to put an old saying in the context of a practising lawyer, even if he was being addressed by a lamp post. Long known to be a bastion of ‘face value’ of the Lawyer arguing the matter, the span of attention of the Judges on the bench can make or mar a case in Supreme Court. Against the backdrop where face of the advocate arguing the matter and the past linkages/associations were not an insignificant attribute in getting a favourable judgment, here was a judge who was at pains to understand the cause of justice instead of looking at the face in front of him. Conversely, in the instances, when there was no merit in the matter, he would be equally disdainful and give enough hints of not being in a position to enjoy the convoluted stretching of arguments by those advocates whose only claim to stretch the arguments , in cases without merit, used to be their face.
The new young lawyers found it extremely encouraging when Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman would take great interest in whatever they were saying if the cases being dealt with had merit. In a period of 7 years which, by his own admission, he found ‘gruelling’ as he had to wade through ‘piles of briefs’, he did mention that it was a difficult 7 years. The good part was that he qualified it by the end remark saying that ‘I have enjoyed writing judgements though’. All his past laurels, including having been designated as the senior lawyer at the youngest age of 37 years, coming from a very renowned pedigree being the son of Fali Nariman , an Alumni of Howard University, having been in ordained Parsi Priest at a very young age, Justice Nariman dealt with 13565 cases in his tenure of 7 years.
The path breaking judgements of striking down section 66A of the Information Technology Act, striking down the criminality from section 377 of Indian Penal Code, eradicating the socially crippling practice of Triple Talak, all bear the trade mark pen of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman. While Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana described Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman as a ‘lion of a judge’, others were sad at the departure of a judge who always spoke his mind and was known for his erudition , clarity, scholarly work and elephantine memory through which he could recite scriptures, judgements and citations with equal ease.
Having been the Solicitor General of India a few years before being elevated to the Bench, perhaps, the life had come full circle for Justice Nariman having been on both sides in equal measures. However, the parting remarks of Justice Nariman and his style , of disregarding the face and focussing on the substance, should act as a guide for the future league of judges, if they also want to be remembered the way Justice Rohinton Nariman would be remembered by posterity. Similarly, he desired, in his parting remarks, that merit should be the sole criterion above all others in selection of judges as well. Whether his remarks have been listened to or shall be put into practice is a moot point but he has raised extremely important questions.
Now coming to the remark of his 7 years being the most gruelling assignment, it may be recalled that for any sincere and well meaning person any job, including that of a Judge, is no less demanding and gruelling, if the holder of the office decides to do what is expected of him to do. The aberration in performance and outcomes are the result of the fact that people who are appointed to such high offices lose sight of why they are there in the first place and start looking at other things which were supposed to be incidental and not the main factor of them being there. This having been said, it is very obvious that the people indulging in these kinds of things do then out of their own compulsions.
However, if his message of preference of merit on all other things as well as the fact that if any job allotted is executed sincerely by the holder of the office, it is bound to be ‘gruelling’, are followed in practice, it may be a satisfying but difficult journey as has been told by Justice Nariman. After the function, on the Supreme Court lawns, yesterday i.e. Friday on 13.08.2021, Justice Nariman would not be a part of a Bench but we hope to keep on hearing the wise counsel of Justice Nariman in future from different fora.