Born in Malabar on November 1, 1915, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer went on to become one of the best lawyers in India. A rare individual with high principles and a dedicated, daring and humane lawyer, he excelled as a creative legislator while in the Madras Legislature. A dynamic person, he managed portfolios as divergent as Law, Justice, Home, Irrigation, Energy and Social Welfare in the Government of Kerala.
After that political career, he was back at the bar and later, on the Bench he brought new dimensions of compassionate humanism to the legal field and provided able direction to the judicial process. He rose to the top at the Kerala Bar and was elevated to the Bench of Kerala High Court in 1968 where he began his brilliant tenure as Judge. Soon, he arrived in Delhi as a member of the Central Law Commission.
The first ever National Project for Free Legal Services to the poor was a Report on Processual Justice to the people by a high-powered committee headed by Justice Iyer. In the field of legal aid his Committee�s report was the first National Presentation of a project for free legal services in the country, way back in 1973.
The finest hour of the Supreme Court was when Justice Krishna Iyer, along with a companionate team, set about transforming Indian jurisprudence and democratised the judicial process. Public interest litigation, processual affirmative action and forensic defence of human rights and lawyers� services at state expense, blossomed in the justice system. By interpreting Article 21 of the Indian Constitution Justice Iyer�s Bench directed the State to provide free legal services to accused persons in custody. Indeed, his profound contribution to prison jurisprudence in a few criminal cases has given shape to rehumanisation of the sentencing system in India. While a larger Bench of the Supreme Court of India had upheld the constitutionality of death sentence, Justice Iyer imposed stern conditionality making death penalty a sentencing rarity. Justice Krishna Iyer humanised the jurisprudence of bail was and this has been a lasting contribution to the liberation of undertrial prisoners.
There is no Indian judge till date, living or dead, on whom two or three doctoral theses have been written by scholars in different universities. Justice Krishna Iyer has that distinction. He retired from the Supreme Court in November 1980.
Of him, leading lawyer F. S. Nariman is reported to have once said: “When Krishna Iyer speaks, the nation listens”. On another occasion, the same doyen of the Indian Bar, observed: “Some judges are compared to tall oak trees — but it is only the tallest oaks, like a Denning in the U.K., or a Krishna Iyer in India — who can indulge even with some success in that delicate and unpredictable exercise: of laying down the law in accordance with justice”.
He pioneered the legal-aid movement in the country. Before that, he was a state minister and politician. … He was seen as an ardent human-rights activist.He was a Judge – when he spoke, nation listened to. An erudite scholar, he had a way with words and his mastery over language is often reflected in his judgements, along with braveness.
Even though he is remembered for the refusal to give stay to Mrs.Gandhi, which, intern, I believe triggered imposition of the emergency in the country – I think his best judgements are to prevent handcuffing of an accused ( Shamsher singh case); his interpretation of the powers of the President Vs. Cabinet. He is the pitamaha of the PIL ( Pulic Interest Litigation) system in the Country. Neither I have the stature or the capability of Justice VRKI – I some how feel that his decision that a victim can appeal in a criminal case – was an avoidable one. May be I am right or wrong.
Some of the most notable judgments delivered by Justice Krishna Iyer are:
- Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, (1978) 4 SCC 494
- Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board v. A. Rajappa, (1978) 2 SCC 213.
- State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas (1976) 2 SCC 310.
- Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration, (1980) 3 SCC 526.
- Mohd. Giasuddin v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1977) 3 SCC 287
- Moti Ram v. State of M.P., (1978) 4 SCC 47, 54.
- Mohinder Singh Gill v. Chief Election Commissioner, (1978) 1 SCC 405
- Charles Sobraj v. Superintendent, Central Jail, (1978) 4 SCC 104
V.R.Krishnaiyer is a successful advocate. He had command over law and it’s provisions.He delivered landmark judgements.He is most respected Indian Advocate. But he failed to initiate any effort to improve justice delivery system. He contributed nothing to give speedy justice to Indians. He utilised our courts to show his intelligence and superiority in the profession.He did nothing to change the very root of Indian justice delivery system in par with developed countries.
Justice VR Krishna Iyer: Justice Krishna Iyer revolutionised human rights jurisprudence in India. In the Maneka Gandhi case, Justice Iyer gave an expanded definition of “right to life and personal liberty” under Art 21 of the Indian Constitution. Today, it is widely accepted that “Right to Life” cannot only mean physical existence but includes various rights including right to dignity, right to food, right to clean environment, right to privacy etc. Justice Krishna Iyer played a massive role in expanding the scope of Art 21.
Justice Krishna Iyer also solidified the principle that the death penalty could only be given in the rarest of rare cases in India. This is because Justice Iyer was personally against the death penalty as a form of punishment in itself. He never declared the death penalty unconstitutional itself, but he set the standard of “rarest of rare cases” that is followed till today.
Justice Krishna Iyer, along with Justice P.N. Bhagavathi, developed the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) jurisprudence in India. This allowed public spirited individuals to file cases on behalf of oppressed citizens who were unable to access justice by themselves. PIL cases have now been helped ensure justice for undertrial prisoners, for child laborers, and for environment protection etc.
One of the line said by justice v. R krishna iyer in an interview ;
Society is guilty if anyone suffers unjustly”
Image Source: Spicy IP
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