Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman retires: A look at landmark judgments by the ‘champion of constitutional rights’

By: |
August 12, 2021 5:12 PM

Justice Nariman was elevated as a SC judge on July 7, 2014.

During his 7-year stint, Justice Nariman disposed of over 13,500 cases and delivered historic verdicts.

Supreme Court Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman retired today. He was the second most senior judge of the Supreme Court and retired after serving a seven-year term as a Supreme Court judge. Bidding farewell to him, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana today said that he feels like he is losing ‘one of the lions that guarded the judicial institution; one of the strong pillars of the contemporary Judicial System’. The CJI said that Nariman was a man of principles.

Justice Nariman was elevated as a SC judge on July 7, 2014. During his 7-year stint, he disposed of over 13,500 cases and delivered historic verdicts including the declaration of privacy as a fundamental right, setting aside an IT Act provision empowering arrests, decriminalising consensual gay sex and permitting women of all ages to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.

Justice Nariman was born on August 13, 1956. He graduated from Shri Ram College of Commerce and completed his LL.B. from the University of Delhi. He then went to Harvard Law School to complete his LL.M. and practised Maritime Law in New York for one year. He then joined the Bar as an advocate in 1979, became a senior lawyer in 1993 and Solicitor General of India on July 27, 2011.

Let’s take a look at some of his landmark judgements:

Abolition of Section 66A of IT Act

Section 66A of the IT Act was introduced by the Congress government in 2008 as an amendment to the IT Act, 2000. It gave the police power to arrest and imprison an individual for posting ‘offensive and menacing’ content online. The act was passed without discussion in Parliament. In 2015, as part of a two-judge bench, Justice Nariman struck down Section 66A holding that the section not only gives overreaching powers to the law enforcement agencies but also amounted to a violation of freedom of speech.

NRC Judgement

The NRC judgement may be an exception to Justice Nariman’s illustrious career. A judgement delivered by a bench of Justices Nariman and Ranjan Gogoi led to the commencement of the National Register of Citizens process in Assam. However, the issue of the constitutional validity of the law was referred to a larger bench. The order was delivered on 17 December 2014. Under the NRC, the migrants who settled in Assam before 25 March 1971 could qualify for Indian citizenship or for a route to citizenship.

Triple Talaq verdict

Justice Nariman was part of the Supreme Court’s 3:2 majority verdict that ruled triple talaq among Muslims ‘unconstitutional. He had held that gender equality must outweigh religious freedom. Justice Nariman had said that triple talaq is manifestly arbitrary as it empowers Muslim men to severe the marital tie capriciously and whimsically without an attempt at reconciliation. He held that the practice was violative of the fundamental right contained under Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

Right to Privacy a Fundamental Right

In another landmark verdict, the Supreme Court in August 2017 had unanimously ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right under the Constitution. Nariman was part of a nine-judge Constitution bench that gave the verdict. The bench had ruled that the right to privacy is an intrinsic part of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Besides these, Nariman was also a part of the SC bench that struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code that made adultery a punishable offence for men, decriminalising homosexuality and the Sabrimala case where the discrimination against women devotees was termed ‘unconstitutional’.

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