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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016
Chief Justice Chagla (1981)

Mr. H.M. Seervai, on behalf of the Advocate General and himself, replied:

My Lords, Yesterday the learned Advocate General rang me up from Nagpur to say that as he would be joining the Nagpur Full Court Reference (which is taking place just now at Nagpur), would I speak on his behalf and join this Reference? And he was kind enough to say that I would be able to express his thoughts, as I knew Chief Justice Chagla since 1932.

On behalf of the Advocate General and on my own, I associate myself fully with the deeply moving tribute which has been paid to him by My Lord, the Chief Justice. He has referred to the Reference which was made to Chief Justice Chagla when he laid down this office in this very hall. It was a unique occasion. His brother Judges desired that they should be by his side when the Reference was made. This room was packed to capacity. The galleries were packed to capacity. The corridors were completely blocked, both on the second and third floors. It was a tribute not only to the greatest Chief Justice whom we have known since Independence but it was a tribute to a man who commanded universal affection. The tributes which were paid to him were not ordinary, common place tributes. They came from the hearts of those who spoke and they all said that high as was their praise, it was not adequate to the man. When he came to reply, in a voice broken with emotion, which threatened at one stage to break down, he spoke of the pain and anguish of leaving this Court after 17 years and he quoted a French saying which in English means, "to part is always to die a little". He did not know, he would not have wished, that not only did a part of him die, but a part of the High Court also died. Because, there was no one who could fill the void he had left.

Did we say all these things to him in this Court under the impact of his sudden departure? Thirteen years later, it was given to me in reply to a letter of congratulations which he had written, to convey in the privacy of a personal letter all that he had meant not only to me and all the other Advocates at the Bar but also to the High Court. That was in 1972. When his attractive autobiography came out and he sent me an inscribed copy, to my surprise- and an agreeable surprise- he had reproduced the letter which I had written. He said that he could not resist the temptation of reproducing it though in the certain conviction that he would be charged with conceit and egotism. But in his heart of hearts he knew there was no conceit and no egotism, even though he may have used these words to ward off criticism. He knew that every word which was there written was the truth, otherwise I would not have written the letter. May I make a brief reference to what I said because it sums up his career. I said to him that in my 40 years' experience, I knew no other Court like his. I said that I kept telling young men at the Bar that his work as a Judge could not be fully appreciated till they had seen the wonderful atmosphere of his Court. The bright face, the unflagging attention, the humour, the kindliness, the courtesy. And towering above all, there was the feeling of absolute confidence that in his Court every nerve would be strained to see that right was not worsted and that wrong did not triumph. He knew that what I had written was true. For, he had spent all his great energy to make his Court a friendly place, a place where justice would be done.

May I recall one instance which showed that not only did he show kindliness but he saw to it that a client whose case was ill-argued or badly argued did not suffer. A counsel of some standing, in a writ matter, talked for 45 minutes. The Judges did not know what he was saying. I who was against him, did not know what he was saying. With his ears on the arguments, and his eyes on the papers in the file, at the end of 45 minutes, Chagla said "Is this what you are saying?" The Counsel gave a refreshingly candid reply, "My Lord, I ought to have said this, but I am afraid I did not." Counsel and client won the case, but it was Chagla who had enabled them to win it. That was his passion for justice, and My Lords, the ten years which have gone by since I wrote have only deepened and confirmed my conviction. We have seen no other Judge like him.

I will pass by the diplomatic career to which My Lord the Chief Justice has referred. I am sure he did the utmost that was in him and that was very high indeed. But I do not think I am competent to talk of international affairs with which I am not familiar. I will also pass by his practice in the Supreme Court, though on one controversial occasion he took a lead, as he believed in defending the independence of the judiciary when three Judges of the Supreme Court were superseded and the fourth appointed the Chief Justice.

But I would like to recall the last days of his life. My Lord the Chief Justice has said that Chagla never commanded in high political office the respect and affection of the people which he did after he had left those offices, and that is so. In his autobiography which is written in an engaging and attractive style¯ you just read on and you cannot leave the book aside till you have finished it - he talked of intellectual integrity as being fundamental, for without it a man cannot call his soul his own. He thought that the future before him was bleak: after 70 years you can only wait for the final call, and he wished that it would come to him very soon. For, he had suffered two severe heart attacks and his health was failing. But as I said yesterday, in the mercy of Providence, his wish was denied to him and never did he shine brighter than during the dark days of the Emergency. He made one speech of the utmost courage and the utmost conviction which would have landed him in jail. My Lords, I myself, remember ringing up his home to find out whether it was true that he had been preventively detained. He did not mind what happened to him, for he believed that it was no use conserving the few years of life that were left to him, when set against a great cause. I agree with what was said yesterday by my learned friend Mr. Rane, that it is a speech which ought to find a place in any anthology of great speeches. For, My Lords, the concluding words of his speech showed his undying hope that this great country, which had survived conquerors and which had survived dictators in the past, would survive the dictators of the present. He said, somewhat pessimistically, that he was an old man and he would not live to see that day dawn. But fortune was kind. He lived to see that day dawn, and to the last day of his life he fought for two things which he held in high esteem, justice and an independent judiciary, and freedom without which the greatest State must come to naught.

My Lords, he has died, as he would have wished to die, working to the last, meeting his friends and enjoying the game of bridge which was his pleasant occupation every evening. He has left behind a loving and loved family. He has left behind a great name, and the memory of a life every action of which was as clear and transparent as one of his own sentences.

My Lord the Chief Justice has quoted a line from Macbeth; I would like to quote a few lines from Julius Caesar which seem to me to sum up his life as he would have wished it to be summed up:

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man!"

My Lords, I join Your Lordships in conveying to the members of his family our deepest sorrow on their irreparable loss.

Courtesy: The Seervai Legacy by Feroza Seervai

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