Justice Ahmadi

Born on 25-3-1932 in the State of Gujarat, Justice Aziz Mushabber Ahmadi had a long and illustrious career which was not confined to law alone. He began his career as a lawyer on 15-6-1954 by enrolling as a District Pleader in the Bombay High Court and began his practice in Ahmedabad District. After the Gujarat High Court was created, he enrolled as an Advocate on 21-2-1962. Gadbois notes that “during his years at the Bar, he was among the pioneers of the legal aid movement in Gujarat”.1 At the young age of 32 in 1964, he was invited to be a Judge in the City Civil and Sessions Court of Ahmedabad. He was elevated as a Judge of the Gujarat High Court in 1976. He was elevated to the Supreme Court of India in December 1988. He served as the Chief Justice of India from 1994 to 1997 and was succeeded by Justice J.S. Verma.

Justice Ahmadi was known for his sharp legal mind, his commitment to justice, and his integrity. Despite the many noteworthy contributions of Justice Ahmadi, some of which are often overlooked, one that remains particularly relevant today is his role in shaping legal education. Widely regarded as a visionary in his field, he laid the foundation for modern day legal education and its continued evolution. Prof. Iqbal Ali Khan notes in his article “Legal Education in India: An Overview” that Chief Justice Ahmadi suggested at the Chief Justices’ Conference in 1993 that “There should be proper evaluation of papers in the exams. The students should be trained to draft pleadings at the college level. The standard of English should be improved.”2

Justice Ahmadi in a lecture “Repairing the Cracks in Legal Education”3, notes in his words:

Unless we face the bitter truth and come to grips with it, we cannot hope to improve the legal education system. We have failed to attend to the cracks which have since widened and if we fail to take urgent remedial measures, posterity may not pardon us.

He even acknowledged how Dr N.R. Madhava Menon agreed to introduce his proposal in the following words, “I may also mention that I had discussed this proposal with Dr N.R. Madhava Menon, Director of the National Law School, Bangalore”. In 1997 the Bar Council of India introduced compulsory practical training courses on moot courts, drafting, ethics and public interest lawyering.4 The rest is history.

Few people may know that Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi had the unique opportunity to assist Justice Ahmadi with a project report regarding the delay in civil justice administration. This collaboration ultimately resulted in the incorporation of Section 89 in the Code of Civil Procedure5, which enabled the court-mandated referral of parties to various forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and which resulted in the creation of court-annexed mediation centers. Section 89 CPC is today seen as the precursor of Section 12-A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015.6 This project report is expressed in an article co-authored by Law Professors, Justice Ahmadi and Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi and published in New York Journal of International Law and Politics (1998).7

In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India8, the restricted utilisation of emergency powers, in pluralistic Indian society, was explained by Ahmadi, C.J. in the following manner:

11. … We are a crisis-laden country: crisis situations created by both external and internal forces necessitating drastic State action to preserve the security, unity, and integrity of the country. To deal with such extraordinarily difficult situations exercise of emergency powers becomes imperative.

Prof. Samuel Issacharoff in his article “Fragile Democracies”9 has regarded Bommai10 as an “aggressive decision” as “the Indian Supreme Court (upheld) the dismissal from office of three State Governments on grounds of complicity or acquiescence in mob violence in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya”. In this and other decisions, he fought to preserve the dignity of the Constitution, particularly concerning the treatment of disadvantaged groups. Even today, there are numerous cases in which Bommai11 is cited with approval and appreciation, and it serves as a source of inspiration for many Judges who take their oath of office seriously.

Ahmadi, C.J. also delivered the judgment in L. Chandra Kumar case12 that paved the way for the creation of a specialised adjudicatory mechanism – something that is routine today. It is significant that L. Chandra Kumar13 was delivered in a single voice by a Bench of seven Judges; and delivered laconically and in measured paragraphs. My former colleague Anusha Ramesh in her article on “Tribunalisation of India’s Competition Regime”14 has acknowledged that:

[C]hief Justice Ahmadi (as he then was), who delivered the unanimous judgment, reasoned that constitutional safeguards ensuring independence of Judges of the superior judiciary were not available to those who man tribunals; therefore, tribunals could never be effective substitutes for a High Court or the Supreme Court.

The issue of independence of tribunals troubles us even today; for example, in the case of Foreigner Tribunals where members of the tribunals are contractually appointed with zero security of tenure15 like any data entry operator.

Justice Ahmadi not only served as a member of the Bench in several significant judgments, but also authored noteworthy opinions in several leading cases including Mafatlal16 (1997), NDMC17 (1997), Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Assn.18 (1993), S.R. Bommai19 (1994), and L. Chandra Kumar20 (1997) to name a few. He made significant contributions to the development of human rights jurisprudence in India during his tenure as Chief Justice of India, including his landmark judgments on civil liberties and human rights.

Justice Ahmadi laid down instructive law in simple language, so it is easily comprehendible. For instance, in the matter of sentencing, he held that:

9. … [I]t may be stated that if a Judge finds that he is unable to explain with reasonable accuracy the basis for selecting the higher of the two sentences his choice should fall on the lower sentence.21

Judgments authored by Justice Ahmadi are persuasive, logical, intuitive, and reflective of critical thinking. He dealt with people’s problems – and surely, his involvement in the legal aid movement in Gujarat in the 1950s gave him insight into what plagues the system.

After his retirement, he served as the Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University for two tenures.22 His contributions to the University are many – and noted in the history of the grand institution. He lived up to his name, Aziz, which means “beloved” or “esteemed”. The loss of Justice Ahmadi feels very personal – he truly was Aziz – to all of us.

† Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India.

1. Gadbois Jr, George H., Judges of the Supreme Court of India: 1950-1989, (Oxford University Press 2011) at p. 330.

2. Iqbal Ali Khan, “Legal Education in India: An Overview”, 22 ALJ (2014-15) 1.

3. (1993) 1 SCC J-3.

4. Iqbal Ali Khan, “Legal Education in India: An Overview”, 22 ALJ (2014-15) 1.

5. Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, S. 89.

6. Commercial Courts Act, 2015, S. 12-A.

7. Chodosh, Mayo, Ahmadi, and Singhvi, “Indian Civil Justice System Reform: Limitation and Preservation of the Adversarial Process” 30 New York Journal of International Law and Politics (1998) 1-78; Abhishek Sighvi, “Reforms in the Administration of Justice: Beating the Backlog”, 58 JILI (2016) 115.

8. (1994) 3 SCC 1, 67.

9. Issacharoff, Samuel, “Fragile Democracies”, (2007) 120 Harvard Law Review 1405-1467.

10. (1994) 3 SCC 1.

11. (1994) 3 SCC 1.

12. L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, (1997) 3 SCC 261.

13. (1997) 3 SCC 261.

14. Ramesh, Anusha, “‘Tribunalisation‚ of India’s Competition Regime”, (2016) 9 NUJS Law RevIew 325.

15. Rahman, Talha Abdul, “Identifying the ‘Outsider’: An Assessment of Foreigner Tribunals in the Indian State of Assam”, (2020) 2 The Statelessness & Citizenship Review 112; Choudhury, Sumedha, “Denationalisation and Discrimination in Postcolonial India”, (2022) 22.3 International Journal of Discrimination and the Law 326-342.

16. Mafatlal Industries Ltd. v. Union of India, (1997) 5 SCC 536.

17. NDMC v. State of Punjab, (1997) 7 SCC 339.

18. Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Assn. v. Union of India, (1993) 4 SCC 441.

19. (1994) 3 SCC 1.

20. (1997) 3 SCC 261.

21. Allauddin Mian v. State of Bihar, (1989) 3 SCC 5, 19.

22. Chancellors of AMU, <https://www.amu.ac.in/offices/public-relations-office/chancellors>.

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