Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, a high profile Supreme Court judge involved in several landmark judgments, retired today with Chief Justice NV Ramana describing him as a “lion of a judge” and the legal fraternity praising his legacy.
“I feel like I am losing one of the lions that guarded the judicial institution, someone known for his erudition, clarity and scholarly work. This institution will miss his knowledge and intellect…He was one of the pillars of our strong judicial system. He always stood for what is right,” the Chief Justice said in an emotional address at his farewell.
“I am little overwhelmed. I am finding it difficult to express my thoughts,” Chief Justice Ramana confessed.
On his last working day, Justice Nariman sat with the Chief Justice in Court no. 1 of the Supreme Court, a tradition for retiring judges.
Justice Nariman, who studied at Harvard University, practiced law for 35 years.
The son of renowned lawyer Fali Nariman, he was 37 when the Supreme Court designated him senior lawyer.
He was appointed Solicitor General of India in 2011. In 2014, he became only the fifth lawyer in the country’s history to be directly appointed Supreme Court judge.
The Chief Justice said Justice Nariman dealt with 13,565 cases.
At a time when the independence of the judiciary is under a shadow, Justice Nariman’s judgments stand out.
In his seven years in the Supreme Court, he struck down Section 66A of the IT Act that allowed the government to jail people over social media posts. He said the law infringed upon the right to free speech.
“The freedom of speech and the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions,” the judgment said.
He was part of the historic Supreme Court judgment that ended a colonial-era law that deemed homosexuality a crime.
In 2017, a majority judgment by him and two others held as unconstitutional the practice of instant Triple Talaq.
Justice Nariman was part of the majority on the Supreme Court bench that ruled that women between 10 and 50 years can’t be banned from the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
When the case came up for review, he gave a dissenting verdict.
To stop custodial deaths, Justice Nariman directed the installing of CCTVs at police stations and the offices of agencies like the and National Investigation Agency.
His most recent judgement warned politicians to “wake up from their slumber” and remove criminal elements from politics.
With Justice Nariman’s retirement the Supreme Court’s strength will be reduced to 25, with nine vacancies. With another judge set to retire later this month, there will be 10 spots to fill.
For around two years no judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court because of a lack of consensus among members of the collegium that selects judges. Former Chief Justice SA Bobde could not appoint any judge during his 18-month term.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, speaking at a virtual farewell for Justice Nariman shared that he was the first lawyer he briefed in the Supreme Court.
“Today is a very special day. Not only for us, but for me as well, as Justice Nariman was the first-ever counsel I briefed in the Supreme Court,” Mr Mehta said.
“I wish your Lordship a happy, healthy and fulfilling life ahead and in the third innings of his life,” the law officer said.
“Thank you, solicitor,” Justice Nariman replied.