In this article, we discuss and learn about some of the veterans of the Indian Legal Industry and look at the background of their lives as well. Introduction A society is premised on the conduct of the citizens for a peaceful existence. The basic concept behind having a law to guide the human civilisation is that it provides… Read More »

In this article, we discuss and learn about some of the veterans of the Indian Legal Industry and look at the background of their lives as well.


A society is premised on the conduct of the citizens for a peaceful existence. The basic concept behind having a law to guide the human civilisation is that it provides proper guidelines and order upon the behaviour and conduct for all the denizens and for the sustenance of equity on the three pillars of governance that is, legislative, judiciary and executive.

Without law, there would be complete ruckus and mayhem in the world. However, what is important here is that we must learn and acknowledge the efforts of some of the greatest of the jurists and lawyers like Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Samuel Von Pufendorf, Cicero, etc. Law has been evolving since time immemorial.

Here’s a list of 10 Veterans of Indian Legal Industry You Must Know

1. Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud

Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud also known from the name “Iron hands” which was given to him considering his unwilling attitude to let anything slip past him was the 16th Chief Justice of India.

He has served as the chief justice of India for the longest period and that is 7 years and 4 months. He has staunchly espoused the independence of the judiciary to an extent that he appeared to be the dissenter of the Indira Gandhi government. YV Chandrachud Bhagwan D. Dua, a Canadian scholar once wrote:

“Throughout 1980, the Chief Justice had refused to submit to pressures and made the government appoint eight chief justices to High Courts (and five judges to the Supreme Court) according to well-established constitutional practices.”

YV Chandrachud has been associated with a number of historic judgments. Hereunder are some of the landmark judgments rendered by him:

  • The A.D.M. Jabalpur v. Shukla[1] case, famously known as the Habeas Corpus case. The detenues in this case, under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act that, right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution could not be taken away even during periods of national emergency. He along with other judges upheld the doctrine of “original intent” of the makers of Constitution, which, provides that Article 21 is predisposed to suspension during national emergencies.
  • Minerva Mills[2] case saw a landmark judgment on the interpretation of basic structure doctrine. It was held that the parliament’s power to amend the Constitution is subject to the provisions of the Constitution and is not unlimited. Further, the fundamental rights which form the most integral part of the Constitutional cannot be emasculated.
  • In the Shah Bano case,[3] YV Chandrachud headed the bench which ruled maintenance and compensation to be provided to the divorced Muslim woman in accordance to CrPC.

2. DY Chandrachud

DY Chandrachud is a current Supreme Court judge and is the son of the longest-serving Chief Justice of India, YV Chandrachud. He is well known for his dissenting opinions in landmark cases. Recently the most remarkable of his dissent is his opinion in the Aadhaar judgment in unlike the majority ruling, he held that the largest biometric identity project was a clear violation of the fundamental rights.

The acclaimed opinion is the one which he has given for the landmark case Justice K. S. Puttaswamy and Anr. v Union of India[4] which declared the unprecedented right to privacy as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

ADM Jabalpur case which his father had adjudicated upon was overruled after his opinion. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which criminalized “unnatural” sex even between two consenting adults was ruled as unconstitutional in the judgment rendered in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India[5]. This was widely celebrated across the country and especially by the LGBTQ community as a major victory.

Further, notable rulings were the decriminalisation of Section 497 which provided for adultery as it was infringing the right to equality and privacy, and the judgement in Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala[6] holding that depriving access to women of menstruating age to the Sabrimala temple is violative of right to equality. Chandrachud Jr. has also been a part of benches which legalised passive euthanasia and living will.

3. Ram Jethmalani

Ram Jethmalani was the Union Minister of Law and Justice. He was a celebrated criminal lawyer and also dealt with some high-profile civil cases. His entire political career he endeavoured to better the relations between India and Pakistan because he had experienced as a refugee post-partition.

He began his lawyering career at the age of 17 in Karachi and then was forced to flee to India after riots broke there. Jethmalani came to India with only one paise, staying in refugee camps in his initial days in India. He won a case which he had filed to question the inhumane treatment given to the refugees under the Bombay Refugee Act.

He rose to fame in the controversial case of Nanavati case[7]. Interestingly he defended a number of smugglers and established his image as a lawyer for the smugglers. Responding to the name “smuggler’s lawyer”, Jethmalani said that it was his duty to advocate for his client. He was famous for defending high profile clients and hereunder are certain instances-

  • Harshad Mehta involved in the Stock market scam
  • Manu Sharma, the prime accused in the Jessica Lall murder case
  • Convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
  • Asaram Bapu involved in sexual assault case
  • Lalu Prasad Yadav in fodder scam
  • Amit Shah in the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin
  • Subrata Roy in the case for disproportionate asset

4. Jasti Chelameswar

Jasti Chelameswar is one of the most recognized Supreme Court judges in India. He is the one who affirmed Freedom of Speech as a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. He is the former Chief Justice of Guwahati High Court who was then transferred to Kerala High Court with the same position.

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act which incriminated people for posting as electronic messages any content which “causes annoyance or inconvenience” was held to be unconstitutional. This was the judgment rendered in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India[8].

Further, he has been a part of several notable benches in the judgements of Justice K. S Puttaswamy v. Union of India (Aadhaar case) and the National Judicial Appointment Commission verdict.

In the NJAC judgement which espoused the collegium system to appoint judges to higher judiciary, he gave a highly acclaimed dissent by saying that “collegiums system has become a euphemism for nepotism” where “mediocrity or even less” is supported and a “constitutional disorder” does not look distant.

5. Prafulla Chandra Natwarlal Bhagwati

Prafulla Chandra Natwarlal Bhagwati can be said to be one of the pioneers of the Indian Judiciary who founded the concept like absolute liability and public interest litigation. He has been conferred with Padma Vibhusan in public affairs, which is the second-highest civilian award.

Bhagwati who had concurred with the majority decision in the A.D.M. Jabalpur case suspending all the fundamental rights even Article 21 which provided for the right to life and liberty during a period of emergency, later on, “apologized” in 2011 for the judgement being short-sighted.

During the national emergency in the era of Indira Gandhi, it appeared that he was inclined towards the Gandhi family to better his prospects. He further ruled in favour of Maneka Gandhi saying that necessity to state a reason in compliance to Section 10(5) of the Passports Act (1967) serves to the fundamental right of freedom of speech. And thus, the government has to furnish statement for requesting her to return her passport “in the public interest”.

The Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi grieved PN. Bhagwati’s by quoting him as “stalwart of India’s legal fraternity”.

6. Nanabhoy Palkhivala

Nani Palhivala was an Indian jurist and a great barrister, who was known for his ability to unravel the intricacies of jurisprudence. Palkhivala was primarily involved in commercial and tax law and has even authored a book called The Law and Practice of Income Tax. He worked in the High Court of Bombay before arguing before the Supreme Court.

His actual rise to fame begun after the historic case of Kesavananda Bharti v The State of Kerala[9] wherein the 13 judge bench held that Article 368 of the Indian Constitution “does not does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution.” The doctrine of basic structure was born as a result of the judgment.

Later in the case of Minerva Mills v Union of India, Palkhivala argued that constitutional amendments must be amenable to judicial review which were earlier excluded by Article 368 (4) of the Constitution of India.

In the famous Privy Purse case he espousing the constitutional intent stated that: The survival of our democracy and the unity and integrity of the nation depend upon the realisation that constitutional morality is no less essential than constitutional legality. Dharma lives in the hearts of public men: when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no amendment, can save it.”

He declined the position which he was offered to the Supreme Court. He was offered the office of Attorney General of India in 1968 and related to that he had written in his book We the Nation:

“After a great deal of hesitation, I agreed. When I was in Delhi I conveyed my acceptance to him, and he told me that the announcement would be made the next day. I was happy that the agonising hours of indecision were over. Sound sleep is one of the blessings I have always enjoyed. That night I went to bed and looked forward to my usual quota of deep slumber.

But suddenly and inexplicably, I became wide awake at three o’clock in the morning with the clear conviction, floating like a hook through my consciousness, that my decision was erroneous and that I should reverse it before it was too late. Early in the morning I profusely apologised to the Law Minister for changing my mind.”

In 1977, when Janata Party was in power in the centre, Palkhivala was appointed as the Indian Ambassador to the United States.

7. Hans Raj Khanna

He is known to be one of the most eminent jurists in India and has penned a number of important judgments and dissents. Before he was elevated to the seat in the Supreme Court he was the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court.

His acumen in constitutional law is such that his judgments form the grundnorm of the constitution in the contemporary era. Justice Khanna’s minority opinion in the Habeas Corpus case was widely acclaimed across the country as it, not in favour of what the then government would have wanted.

He, in this case, opined that a person cannot be bereaved of the fundamental right to life and liberty which is enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. His was the lone dissenting opinion and was celebrated as an indication of judicial bravery and determination in defending the fundamental rights to life and liberty in a democracy.

Further, he has also been a part of the bench which delivered the historic judgement in the case of Kesavanda Bharti v. Union of India,[10] which restricted the unfettered powers of the Parliament to amend the constitution by developing the concept of the “basic structure doctrine”.

In the later age of his career, he also became a Law Minister, nevertheless, for a brief time period of three days in the Charan Singh Ministry. The Govt of India has conferred him with the Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest honour in India (for civilians), for his contribution to the legal field, in the year 1999.

8. Harish Salve

Harish Salve is a highly reputed Indian lawyer who has served in the office of the Solicitor General of India. Recently he was ranked at the 43rd position as India’s 50 most powerful people in 2017. At the beginning of his careers, he had assisted Palkhivala in the Minerva Mills case.

He has been a counsel a lot of high profile and important cases. He was first person to argue regarding an anti-dumping case in the Supreme Court. Generally, he counsels for large corporations like Reliance Industries Limited, the Tata Group, ITC Limited, Vodafone, etc.

In the year of 2015, he advocated for Salman Khan in the hit-and-run and the drunk-and-drive case, for which the High Court of Bombay exonerated him removing all the charges imposed upon him.

The major stint in his career was the Kulbhushan Jadhav case which he represented for India in the International Court of Justice. The verdict in this case ordered for a stay on the death sentence which was imposed by the Pakistani courts on Jadhav for spying, until the ICJ renders a final decision. Salve charged a nominal fee of Rs. 1 for this case.

9. Soli Sorabjee

He is a former Attorney-General of India and a celebrated jurist. He has argued in some of the most notable cases which the Indian legal field has witnessed like:

  • Keshavananda Bharti v Union of India[11]
  • Maneka Gandhi v Union of India[12]
  • R. Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu[13]
  • R. Bommai v Union of India[14]

Soli Sorabjee was conferred with Padma Vibhusan by the Government of India for defending the freedom of expression and protection of human rights. He is famous for his pro bono representation for the Citizen’s Justice Committee related to the anti-sikh riots which happened in 1984.

10. Fali Sam Nariman

Fali S Nariman is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and a globally recognized jurist who has been conferred with honors like Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Gruber Prize for Justice.

He is a known and reputed name in the field of constitutional law and several landmark cases. His father wanted him to pursue the Indian Civil Service Examination, but he chose law as he could not afford anything else.

Until the declaration of emergency in 1975, Nariman continued to serve as the Additional Solicitor General of India. A seasoned lawyer, Nariman represented the Union Carbide in the case of Bhopal Gas tragedy, for which he apologized in a later time.

However, he played a prime role in the outside court settlement of $470 million which was offered to the victims in the tragedy. Some notable cases in which he has appeared are: T. M. A Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka,[15] Golakhnath v. State of Punjab[16] and S. P Gupta v. Union of India[17].

[1] [1976] 2 SCC 521

[2] Minerva Mills v Union of India AIR 1980 SC 1789

[3] Mohd. Ahmed Khan v Shah Bano Begum AIR 1985 SC 945

[4] [2017] 10 SCC 1

[5] WP [Crl.] no. 76/2016

[6] 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1690

[7] K. M. Nanavati v State of Maharastra AIR 1962 SC 605

[8] [2015] 5 SCC 1

[9] [1973] 4 SCC 225

[10] [1973] 4 SCC 225

[11] [1978] 4 SCC 224

[12] [1978] 1 SCC 248

[13] AIR 2007 SC 861

[14] 1994 [3] SCC 1

[15] [2002] 8 SCC 481

[16] AIR 1967 SC 1643

[17] AIR 1982 SC 149

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Updated On 25 March 2020 9:27 AM GMT
Mayank Shekhar

Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is an alumnus of the prestigious Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.

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