A first-generation lawyer, Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, who became the nation’s Solicitor General and Attorney General, died at 91 last month. Sorabjee had many passions in life and in the law. Principal among them were the Constitution and the Supreme Court whose founding he bore witness to and whose evolution paralleled his own professional career of seventy years.


Sorabjee’s interest in the Constitution began as a law student in Bombay. India had just been declared a Republic, and Sorabjee had a ringside view of the early cases in which citizens, their counsel, and the courts invoked the new people’s constitution1. Bunking class, Sorabjee went to see Fram Balsara’s challenge to prohibition in the Bombay High Court. Recounting the proceedings, Sorabjee credits Noshirwan Engineer, Balsara’s lawyer, for that memorable, but misattributed, sentence:“a republic without a pub is a relic”. Sorabjee was also captivated by H.M. Seervai’s brilliant closing arguments for the State before a hostile Bench.


In June 1953, Sorabjee joined Jamshedji Kanga’s chamber working under Kharshedji Bhabha2. He handled a wide range of constitutional, civil, and tax cases. Impressed by Sorabjee’s acumen, Chief Justice M.C. Chagla made him an amicus overlooking his relative inexperience.3 As Sorabjee later put it, he had no “Godfather in the profession.” So, he understood first-hand the importance of mentoring4 juniors and encouraging younger lawyers. As his reputation soared, Sorabjee was offered a High Court appointment. He turned it down for personal reasons5, but continued to handle heavy matters in Bombay and increasingly in Delhi.



* *The article has been published with kind permission of Eastern Book Company. Cite as (2021) 7 SCC J-20
The author is a lead counsel at an international organisation. He thanks Gopal Sankaranarayan, B. Suchindran, and Sanjay Hegde for their comments.

1 <https://www.press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691174433/ a-peoples-constitution>.

2 <http://www.bombaybar.com/in-memoriam/659a4ed2hu6jyudd95flve55cbjnqu>.

3 Kamala Nair Bombay v. Narayana Pillai Kumaran Nair, 1957 SCC OnLine Bom 50 : AIR 1958 Bom 12.

4 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOK3-RDTyAc>.

5 <https://www.indianexpress.com/ article/opinion/columns/soli-sorabjee-former-attorney-general -of-india-dead-7300828/>.

6 (1961) 3 SCR 718 : AIR 1961 SC 935.

7 (1965) 1 SCR 123 : AIR 1965 SC 722.

8 Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam, (1967) 3 SCR 525 : AIR 1967 SC 1836.

9 Bennett Coleman & Co. v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788.

10 Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.

11 Soli Sorabjee, “Palkhivala and the Constitution of India”, (2003) 4 SCC J-33

12 <https://www.alumni.xaviers.edu/news/22866>.

13 Ahmedabad St. Xavier’s College Society v. State of Gujarat, (1974) 1 SCC 717.

14 <https://www.indianexpress.com/article/ india/soli-sorabjee-dies-former-attorney-general-covid-death-7297377/>.

15 ADM, Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla, (1976) 2 SCC 521.

16 Soli J. Sorabjee, The Emergency, Censorship and the Press in India, 1975-77, Writers and Scholars Educational Trust (1977).

17 See Here .

18 State of Rajasthan v. Union of India, (1977) 3 SCC 592.

19 Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248.

8 Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam, (1967) 3 SCR 525 : AIR 1967 SC 1836.

20 C.B. Muthamma v. Union of India, (1979) 4 SCC 260.

21 Sunil Batra (2) v. Delhi Admn., (1980) 3 SCC 488.

22 S.P. Gupta v. Union of India, 1981 Supp SCC 87.

23 Sorabjee, “Homi Seervai — A Personal Tribute” in Evoking H.M. Seervai [Feroza Seervai (Ed.) 2005] p. 45.

24 S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram, (1989) 2 SCC 574.

25 Soli Sorabjee, “Freedom of Expression and Censorship”, Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, Winter 1994, p. 327.

26 Ramaswami Venkataraman, My Presidential Years (Harper Collins Publishers India, 1994) pp. 336-37.

27 S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1.

28 Sorabjee, Equality in the United States and India in Constitutionalism and Rights [Louis Henkin and Albert Rosenthal (Eds.), 1990] p. 94.

29 Soli J. Sorabjee, “S.R. Bommai v. Union of India : A Critique”, (1994) 3 SCC J-1.

30 Soli Jehangir Sorabjee, Situation of Human Rights in Nigeria, Report submitted by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, pursuant to Commission resolution 1997/53, E/CN.4/1999/36 dated 14-01-1999, available at <https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1487620? ln=en>.

31 T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka, (2002) 8 SCC 481.

32 <https://www.sthewire.in/law/soli-sorabjee-former-attorney-general-india-democracy-constitution>.

33 Aerial Incident of 10-8-1999 (Pakistan v. India), 2000 ICJ Reports 12.

34 I.R. Coelho v. State of T.N., (2007) 2 SCC 1.

35 SEE Here .

36 See HERE .

37 See HERE.

38 See HERE.

39 See HERE.

40 See HERE .

41 See HERE.

42 See HERE.

One comment

  • No doubt his wisdom in arguments and case presentations. He is a live in Lawman forever.

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