Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana Friday paid rich and glowing tributes to two eminent jurists and former attorney generals, Soli J Sorabjee and Ashok H Desai, saying it would be difficult to describe the “work and achievements” of two “doyens” and legends of Bar.
Sorabjee, 91, who appeared in several historic cases like Kesavananda Bharti and S R Bommai, had died of COVID-19 at a hospital here on April 30 last year. Desai, 88, who appeared in famous cases such as A R Antulay, Narmada Dam case, the Salwa Judum, and decriminalisation of consensual gay sex, passed away on April 13, 2020. A full court reference in the memory of Desai and Sorabjee was held in the auditorium of the new building complex of the apex court in a hybrid mode.
CJI Ramana termed the “experience and expertise” of Sorabjee as “unparalleled” and said that he was one of the few lawyers about whom, “without any exaggeration,” it can be said that "He made an indelible mark on the jurisprudence of this country.”
Sorabjee, a recipient of the second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, had started his legal practice in 1953 in the Bombay High Court and went on to serve as the Attorney General for India twice, first from 1989 to 1990 and then from 1998 to 2004, with great distinction, he said.
“His work has spread over nearly seven decades in defending fundamental rights and human rights. His faith in the Constitutional ideals was unshakeable. His defense of civil liberties during the Emergency, his outspoken views, and erudite opinion pieces are all well known. He was a part of some of the most iconic Constitutional cases in the country- as a junior assisting Nani Palkhivala in Golaknath and Kesavananda Bharti, and as counsel before the Court in Maneka Gandhi, D.C. Wadhwa and S.R. Bommai to name a few,” the CJI said.
Justice Ramana shared his experience when he had briefed Sorabjee in a case as a lawyer. “The briefing was completely different from what I had expected. He had read the entire file before I had even reached and knew every detail. The briefing lasted for just 5 minutes. He asked me only two questions, which were the very same questions posed by the bench during the hearing. His experience and expertise were unparalleled,” he said.
The CJI termed his death due to COVID as “shocking” and said Sorabjee will always be remembered as a legend who added strength to the pillars of democracy. Sorabjee is survived by his wife Zena Sorabjee, daughter Zia Mody, and sons- Jehangir and Hormazd.
While paying homage to Desai, Justice Ramana said that he was among a very few who served as the Solicitor General and the Attorney General for India and “made an immense contribution to Indian jurisprudence, by enriching legal dialogues within the courtroom.” He said Desai was a champion of civil liberties and was part of several notable cases which enriched Indian legal history.
‘Shri Ashok H. Desai was a man who wore many hats. He was a Legal Correspondent for a leading news daily. He was also passionate about teaching law and journalism. Interestingly, he remains one of the few advocates who had the rare distinction of being both a Solicitor General and an Attorney General. He also represented India at several international forums,” the CJI said. Desai is survived by his wife, Suverna, and three children, Harsh, Jay, and Ami.
Desai had started his practice in 1956 in Bombay High Court and was awarded the Padma Bhushan and the Law Luminary Award in 2001. Attorney General KK Venugopal and Supreme Court Bar Association President Vikas Singh also addressed the full court reference. “Ashok Desai is a celebrated figure and his cherished memory gives us the strength to bear the loss of his departure. And Sorabjee wore many hats of the legal luminary, thinker, loving father, and a friend. We became friends in 1979,” Venugopal said.
Singh hailed the contribution of both the lawyers and said Desai was “One of the lawyers who supported the rights of LGBTQ community in the case challenging Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code”.
“Soli Sorabjee was a stalwart warrior of humanity. He practiced till the very end. He contributed heavily in developing constitutional jurisprudence. He was never drawn towards a commercial career even when he belonged to a successful business family,” the SCBA President said.
-With PTI Inputs