Soli Sorabjee was a Lion of the Law

‘Soli steadfastly believed in Voltaire’s well-known dictum that he would disagree violently with anybody however defend to loss of life that particular person’s proper to disagree with him.’
Aditi Phadnis remembers Soli Sorabjee, who handed into the ages this week.


Senior Advocate at 41, twice legal professional common, and a dedicated defender of freedom of expression and the safety of human rights, Padma Vibhushan Soli Sorabjee died of COVID-19-related problems at 91.

He devoted his life to the service of regulation — and jazz, a style of music he cherished with a ardour.

Sorabjee (March 9, 1930-April 30, 2021) labored with authorized luminaries like Nani Palkhivala (as his junior). Of Palkhivala, he stated: ‘I vividly keep in mind the early morning conferences the two of us had these days in his room at the Oberoi Hotel. Both of us have been in our pyjamas.

‘At one such convention, I nervously steered the argument about inherent limitations on the amending energy primarily based on sure articles in the US regulation journals. He grasped the level, however was not fairly satisfied. A number of hours later in the Supreme Court, he expounded the doctrine brilliantly.’

The identical could possibly be stated of Sorabjee (although pyjamas won’t have figured).

In a tribute, his junior, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, stated that earlier than Special Leave Petition hearings, juniors can be requested to transient him for a most of 10 minutes, ‘often dissatisfied along with his diploma of understanding and absorption and alarmed at the last-minute convention a jiffy earlier than court docket began. And then he would astonish us along with his dexterity inside the court docket, his nimbleness with the level at problem, repeatedly hitting the nail on the head when questioned by the court docket and often carrying the day.’

Sorabjee was one of the attorneys who argued and received the Kesavananda Bharati versus State of Kerala case that had a profound affect on Constitutional regulation.

Many argue that the verdict saved democracy in India by preserving the idea of the supremacy of the Constitution and placing to relaxation the British idea of parliamentary supremacy.

In one of his newspaper columns, Sorabjee recalled how he clashed with one other good Constitutional lawyer however revered colleague H M Seervai (he notes that all through his life, Seervai by no means known as him Soli however Sorab, for causes he did not totally perceive).

‘Considerable warmth was generated in the Supreme Court when Seervai derided our arguments about the fundamental construction of the Constitution, he wrote, however added that Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the Emergency was later criticised by Seervai in unambiguous phrases.

Another landmark case amongst the many he fought was the S R Bommai case that laid down the template that in a dispute, a choice on a majority of a authorities in energy wanted to be examined on the flooring of the House, not in the Raj Bhavan.

More just lately, he made it clear that he stood with the judgment decriminalising Article 377.

He wrote: ‘In essence homosexuality has not been legalised, a lot much less advocated or championed. It has been decriminalised with the salutary consequence that the police won’t be able to barge into a particular person’s bed room and terrorise her or him with arrest and prison prosecution with all the attendant trauma and stigma until the extortionate calls for of the police are met.

‘It is well-known that Section 377 had grow to be an instrument for harassment and blackmail. The judgment rightly removes the stigma that a homosexual particular person is a prison or an immoral particular person. The actual advantage of the judgment lies in its recognition that intimacies, privacies and autonomies of human life and the proper of a person to make decisions, which doesn’t hurt or infringe the rights of different individuals, can’t be criminalised.’

Another landmark case was the 2012 Supreme Court petition of regulation pupil Shreya Singhal, asking for Section 66A in the Information Technology Act, 2000 to be taken off the statute books that Sorabjee fought when Mukul Rohatgi grew to become legal professional common.

‘Despite possessing a totally different political persuasion, Soli steadfastly believed in Voltaire’s well-known dictum that he would disagree violently with anybody however defend to loss of life that particular person’s proper to disagree with him,’ stated Singhvi.

He could possibly be seen at the India International Centre often, the place he was president twice, and used the IIC lawns to organise, together with different jazz lovers, the Jazz Yatra (1978-2003), a global competition of jazz.

His affection for jazz started in school when he floated his personal band, the SS (Soli Sorabjee) Quartet. He explored the style additional and information that he fell in love with it nearly by chance — when, as an alternative of a recording of Brahms, a shopkeeper offered him a Benny Goodman album. Moonglow, the American clarinetist’s well-known tune, was one of his favourites.

He additionally cherished literature: Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Victorian poets.

Singhvi says he was a good mimic, and generally depraved with the reward — one thing arduous to think about from somebody as courtly as Sorabjee. Above all, he was a believer in humanism, civil liberties and all issues of magnificence.

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