Fali Sam Nariman: The Legendary Lawyer and a Noble Soul


By Avanish Kumar Chaturvedi 

(BA LLB Hons.)

C.M.P Degree College, University of Allahabad. 

On February 21, 2023, a strong brick of the judicial pillar of democracy was broken due to the death of the legendary jurist and senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, Fali Sam Nariman, at the age of 95 at his residence. He, the doyen of the Indian legal family, has left an indelible footprint on the legal path with his intelligence, argumentative techniques, courage, and noble nature.

Born on January 10, 1929, in Rangoon, in a middle-class Persian family, son of Sam Bariyamji Nariman and Banoo Nariman, Fali migrated to India with his parents in February 1942 in the way of the Japanese invasion of Burma. In his autobiography ‘Before memory fade’ Nariman describes that his family had to leave behind most of their personal belongings due to the force of the British government.

Fali did his schooling from the Bishops Cotton School, Shimla. For graduation, he went to St Xaviers College, Mumbai, and received a second-class degree in his B.A. examination in economics and history. His father wanted to see Fali as a civil servant but young Fali knew his father could not afford the fees so he decided to study as a last option, from the government college and achieved first position in the examination. Being awarded the Kinlocks Forbes Gold Medal and Price for Romans law & jurisprudence.

To begin his legal career he joined the Bombay High Court, in November 1950. He joined the chamber of Sir Jamshedji Behramji Kanga and made him a legal mentor who played an eminent role in definitive accounts of the Indian constitution. After practising for 22 years, he was appointed as a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India.

Nariman played the role of a vital instrument in the development of the constitutional law of India. Nariman’s legal career was marked by self-deprecatory humour, legal integrity, and fraternity.

He served the office of additional solicitor general of India from May 1972 to June 1975 but resigned his post in opposition to Indira Gandhi’s decision of declaration of emergency on 26 June 1975 and demonstrated his commitment to democracy 

Fali was nominated member of Rajya Sabha between 1995 and 2005. Being a member of Rajya Sabha under an NDA government, he straddled the entire political spectrum.  He chaired various National and international legal associations. he served as, a president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration from 1994 onwards, vice President of the Internal Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce from 1989, a member of the London Court of International Arbitration from 1988, honorary member of the International Commission of Juris from 1988, president of the bar association of India from 199. He also served as a chairman of the executive committee of the international commission of jurists in Geneva from 1995 to 1997.

He had a constant enthusiasm to earn more and more knowledge. He wrote that “the race is over but the work is never while the power to work remains.” He practised law for more than 70 years in various fields of national and international issues.

Nariman was awarded the Padma Vibhushan (in 2007) and Padma Bhushan (in 1991), the second and third highest honours granted to civilians by the President of India. Both awards were honoured to Nariman for his contributions to jurisprudence and public affairs. Nariman was received the Gruber Prize for Justice in 2002. He dedicated his to his first school Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. for excellence in public administration, he was honoured with the 19th Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award.

Landmark cases-

From defending business giants to championing human rights, Nariman shaped the Indian legal landscape, inspiring young generations to fight for the rights of human beings.

Kesavananda Bharati vs. State of Kerala (1973): Fali Sam Nariman appeared for the petitioner in this historic case, which led to the evolution of the “Basic Structure Doctrine.” The Supreme Court, through this case, established that certain features of the Constitution are beyond the reach of Parliament and cannot be amended. 

Bhopal Gas tragedy case (1989): Nariman served as the amicus curiae. He represented Union Carbide in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case and played a significant role in striking a $470 million deal between the victims and the organisation outside the court. But on asking he said that it was a mistake because he thought that was one more case that would be a feather to his cap. Despite reaching the heights of the legal profession, he was never afraid to admit he had made a mistake.

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978): Fali Sam Nariman was involved in this case that dealt with the right to travel abroad. The Supreme Court, in its judgement, expanded the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, emphasising the importance of personal liberty.

Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain (1975): Fali Sam Nariman represented Raj Narain in the case challenging the election of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Supreme Court declared Indira Gandhi’s election void on grounds of electoral malpractices.

Nariman played a significant role as an instrument in landmark cases such as Golaknath versus the State of Punjab 1967, establishing judicial review over constitutional amendments.

Nariman had argued in the SCAORA case (1999), the Second Judges case that ‘consultation’ with the president means more than merely seeking advice.

Nariman was a part of the NJAC verdict and played a vital role in the Supreme Court Advocate on Record Association case (2016), which criticised NJAC that deserving lawyers had been overlooked for consideration for Judgeship.

He argued the TMA Pai case TMA Pai Foundation & Ors versus the State of Karnataka and Ors in October 2002. He addressed the extent of the rights of minorities under Article 30 of the constitution.

He advocated the Gujarat government in the Narmada rehabilitation case however he resigned in the middle of the case after Christians had been killed and in this attack, Bible and churches were set on fire.

In 2014, he represented Justice Jayalalitha in court and successfully got bail for the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu after it had initially been denied. 

Nariman was married to Bapsi F. Nariman, in 1955. He had a son, Justice Rohinton Nariman and a daughter.

Nariman, who was suffering from cardiac issues for a long time, passed away in his New Delhi house on Wednesday morning February 21, 2024.

Nariman’s life is a lesson for the young upcoming generation. General principles that individuals might learn from their career and public statements are;  Commitment to Ethics and Integrity, Deep Legal Knowledge, Fearlessness and Independence, Advocacy for Constitutional Values, Effective Communication, Adaptability and Resilience, Public Service and Social Responsibility, etc.


1-  Autobiography of Fali Sam Nariman , ‘before memory fades..’

2-  https://www.livemint.com/news/india/who-is-fali-sam- nariman-bhishma-pitamah-of-lawyer-community-represented-these-landmark-cases-11708487372483.html

3-  https://indiankanoon.org/doc/512761/

4-  https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fali-s-nariman-an-example-and-inspiration-9174407/

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