[Editorial Analysis] SOLI SORABJEE: Defender of Free Speech

Mains Paper 4: Ethics
Prelims level: Not Much
Mains level: Personalities in Public Life

Context:

• The editorials discuss the contributions of former AGI and renowned jurist Soli Sorajbee, who had died.

About his life:

• He was born in a Paris family and trained at Bombay Law College along with Fali Nariman.

• He was started his career in 1853 at the Bombay High Court under Nani Palkhivala’s guidance.

• Sorabjee was a warm, genteel, intellectual practitioner of the law of a era where facts and interpretation of the statutes were the overriding consideration.

• Sorabjee served as Attorney General between 1998-2004.

• He was a Special Representative to the UNHRC.

• From 1998-2004, he also served as chairman of the UN sub-committee on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.

• He served as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague.

• He was a life trustee of the India International Centre.

• He was awarded with Padma Vibushan.

• In 1997, he was appointed by the UN as a Special Rapporteur for Nigeria to report on the human rights conditions in the country.

Sorabjee Contributions and Achievements:

• When his contemporaries did not focus on social and economic rights, Sorabjee stood for civil and political rights mainly on the right to freedom of speech and expression.

• He by assisting Nani Palkhivala, made a significant contribution to the interpretation of constitutional law in Independent India especially in two landmark Golaknath and Keshavananda Bharati cases which protected the rights of the individual against the state.

• During the emergency, he provided legal assistance to many political prisoners under the draconian MISA.
• He believed judges after retirement should keep away from political positions.

• He was at the forefront of helping the poor and downtrodden.

Contribution through Landmark Cases:

• In the 1970s, as assistant to Palkhivala, he represented the Keshavananda Bharati case, which gave landmark judgment and evolved the famous “Basic Structure of Constitution” concept.

• In the 1978 landmark ruling in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India also known as Passport Impounding Case, Sorabjee despite appeared for the govt defended the petitioners right to be heard.

1. The court also held that due process is substantive and not merely procedural in personal liberty cases.
• In the 1980s, he represented the milestone St Xavier’s College petition against Gujarat state, where the court upheld the rights of minority bodies to set up and run their own educational institutions.

• In the 1994 SR Bommai V Union of India case, Sorabjee argued that the proclamation of the President’s rule is subject to judicial review, despite the protection that the Governor’s office enjoys under the Constitution.

1. This judgment has come to be the litmus test for assessing the constitutionality of Article 356.
2. Due to this, the misuse of this article to dismiss inconvenient state govt has drastically reduced.

• In the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case, Sorabjee stood by the victims not for political reasons but out of his commitment to human rights.
• Although as AGI, he was criticized for advising the govt not to pursue the extradition of company officials.

Conclusion:

• The Supreme Court went through a phase focusing on civil and political rights in the 1970s, and then on social and economic rights in the 1980-90s.

• The time now has once again come for the court to focus on political and civil rights- mainly the right to speech and dissent.

• The present and future generations have to take the lead and follow the ideals of Sorabjee to cherish the dream of a True Democratic Nation which our constitutional forefathers dreamt off.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Ebola virus disease (EVD), consider the following statements:

1. The virus can be transmitted to people only from wild animals.

2. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Examine the contributions of Soli Sorabjee in the evolution of the Indian Constitution.

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