Jurist Fali S Nariman

Back in 2013, Fali S Nariman in a speech delivered at the condolence meeting to mourn the demise of Hon’ble Mr Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy (former Judge, Supreme Court of India) and Hon’ble Mr Justice J.S. Verma (former Chief Justice of India) said ‘Great Judges Never Pass Away’1. The same if not more could be easily attributed to him. He was a jurist par excellence and one of India’s greatest legal luminaries practicing at the bar since 1950. On 21st February 2024 he unfortunately passed away leaving behind a legacy of few can dream of.

He had a distinguished career in the field of law spanning over 70 years. He started his practice in 1950 as a young advocate in Bombay and subsequently moved to New Delhi in 1972 where he was appointed the Additional Solicitor General of India.

He resigned from the post in 1975 to protest against the declaration of emergency against Indira Gandhi government. He held very critical views about the working of the constitutional functionaries during the Emergency period stating in his autobiography that

One of the lessons of the Internal Emergency (of June 1975) was not to rely on constitutional functionaries. These functionaries failed us—Ministers of Government, Members of Parliament, Judges of the Supreme Court, even the President of India. It was because the President of India so readily agreed to sign the Proclamation of Emergency on the night of 25-6-1975, even before the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) knew anything about it that three years later (after the revocation of Emergency in March 1977) a constitutional amendment was deliberately enacted by the Constitution (Forty-fourth Amendment) Act, 1978. Article 352(3) declared that a President could not sign a Proclamation of Emergency unless the decision of the Council of Ministers was communicated to him in writing! I have always thought that Article 352(3), as amended on 20-6-1979, was avowed expressions of parliamentary distrust of India’s highest functionary—the President.2

His name counts among the critics of the Supreme Court’s Article 370 verdict. He was awarded with Padma Vibhushan in 2007, Padma Bhushan in 1991, and the prestigious Gruber Prize for Justice in 2002. He has argued in several leading cases like NJAC, TMA Pai, authored several books, was nominated as Rajya Sabha member during 1999-2005.

Fali S Nariman will be remembered as an acclaimed jurist who has argued several leading cases and was a leading authority on constitutional law in India. His son Rohinton Fali Nariman is a former judge of the Supreme Court.

Tributes pour in for Fali S Nariman:

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

Shri Fali Nariman Ji was among the most outstanding legal minds and intellectuals. He devoted his life to making justice accessible to common citizens. I am pained by his passing away. My thoughts are with his family and admirers. May his soul rest in peace.

Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister

“Very sad to know that Jurist Fali Nariman is no more. Wise, witty, a walking institution himself, Fali Nariman will be greatly missed. Only a few months ago, had an opportunity to meet with him. Affectionate and respected, India loses an icon,”

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Senior Advocate

“End of an era– #falinariman passes away, a living legend who will forever be in hearts and minds of those in law and public life. Above all his diverse achievements, he stuck to his principles unwaveringly and called a spade a spade, a quality shared by his brilliant son.”

Parag Tripathi, Senior Advocate

Fali is one of the great banyan trees of our legal firmament : A conscience keeper of our times.

His contributions and beliefs will continue to guide us.

We are all blessed to have had him in our lives.

Charu Mathur, Advocate on Record

Fali Nariman, the last of giants of law, life, letters and literature. I had a good fortune to take my son to meet him, last January, and seek his blessings. Roman law occupied special place in his heart. The two giants of our bar- Fali and Soli- were Roman Law gold medalist from Bombay University. My son who is reading law at University of Cambridge has abiding love for Roman Law. I was amazed at sir’s humility to engage with a 19 year old over Roman law, books, profs, law and other things. He even asked his office to get two volumes of Law and Literature and emphasised that to be a great lawyer, one has to be a good reader and be curious about all things.

This is a moment of collective grief for all of us at bar and bench. Mr Nariman, we celebrate your life – you continue to live in hearts of so many. Sincerest condolences to his immediate family, office and staff.

Tariq Khan, Registrar, IAMC

In the corridors of courts and halls of justice, your absence will always be felt, however, your inspiring words will echo through the lives you’ve touched.

You have been my mentor and role model and will continue to be. Thank you for supporting and believing in the potential of young lawyers, especially those without a background in law. Your legacy is not only in legal domain but in the empathy and encouragement you generously shared. Thank you for making us believe in ourselves.

Nipun Saxena, Advocate, Supreme Court of India

Mr. Nariman has been one of the forbearers of constitutional values for the last 5 decades of his active practice. While his presence has left an indelible imprint in Indian jurisprudence, his loss has left a larger void in the legal landscape. His contribution to some of the most critical cases that have shaped our country is only matched by his personal integrity which led him to resign as an ASG on account of imposition of Emergency. The grandsire of Indian legal system will forever be idolised in the pantheon of Justice.

1. Fali S Nariman, “Great judges never pass away” (2013) 7 SCC J-1

2. Justice H.R. Khanna: A Centenary Tribute, (2012) 8 SCC J-3

* Picture Credits: Tariq Khan, Registrar IAMC

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