Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said, “I am losing a lion of a judge”, which is true both in reality and metaphorically. Seldom does the SC gets a judge whose assertiveness, arising from his profound knowledge in domestic and foreign laws, cowers arguing counsels into putting their best foot forward in court.
A Leo, he could seldom hide his exasperation at mediocrity, though he had it much under control for the last seven years, since his appointment as a SC judge directly from the bar on July 7, 2014. But the respect for his knowledge and intellectual integrity flowed unhesitatingly from solicitor general Tushar Mehta to seasoned senior advocates and green horns alike and his ceremonial farewell went for an unprecedented 35 minutes. Unprecedentedly, Justice Nariman did not speak a word except acknowledging the farewell wishes.
If lawyers mourned the exit of a brilliant judge, those aspiring for an SC judgeship would rejoice as his retirement could give tailwind to selection of judges by the collegium, which had failed to recommend a single name to the government since August 28, 2019. Insiders say that Justice Nariman would stoutly stall the collegium from recommending any name without his choices and his retirement will give the five-judge panel the space to deliberate on candidates.
Justice Nariman probably inherited a liking for the legal profession as he grew up in the care of his father Fali S Nariman, who was one of the most sought after lawyers for four decades since becoming an additional solicitor general under the Indira Gandhi government and then scaled new heights by stepping down on declaration of Emergency in 1975. Once he joined the profession in 1979, Rohinton assiduously honed his skills, acumen and acquired a wide knowledge in both domestic and foreign laws and jurisprudence. Carving out a niche for himself in the corporate, company and taxation fields, he built his own aweworthy image, consciously moving away from the shadows of his father’s towering personality. He baulked at any comparison with his father.
He had figured in TOI’s 2010 compilation of top 10 advocates of the SC alongside his father, Soli J Sorbjee, Ram Jethmalani, K Parasaran, K K Venugopal, Ashok Desai, Harish Salve, A M Singhvi and Mukul Rohatgi (Kapil Sibal and a few others were left out as they were ministers and law officers at that time).
He authored the 2015 judgment that struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and was part of the majority in a constitution bench judgment that opened the gates of Sabarimala temple to women of all ages, and another that struck down ‘triple talaq’.
In a career spanning a little over seven years on the SC bench, Justice Nariman is credited with the impressive figure of disposing of more than 13,500 cases and authoring nearly 400 judgments. He was one of the few judges who seldom kept verdicts reserved for more than a month.