Former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee passes away at 91
Soli Sorabjee, the former Attorney General of India, passed away on 30 April at the age of 91 due to complications from COVID-19.
- The Padma Vibhushan awardee is most recognised for his work defending people’s freedom of expression as well as human rights.
- Sorabjee is also one of the few well known names in the profession who have openly opposed lawyers that charge big bucks.
“He will be remembered as a legend who added strength to the pillars of democracy. I pay my deep respects to the departed soul. Condolences to the family, friends and fans,” said the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana.
Sorabjee had a career that spanned across seven decades during which he served two terms as the Attorney General, once from 1989 to 1990 and again from 1998 to 2004.
“Despite possessing a different political persuasion, Soli [Sorabjee] has steadfastly believed in Voltaire [sic] famous dictum that he would disagree violently with anyone but defend to death that person’s right to disagree with him,” said Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a senior Member of Parliament (MP) and senior advocate in the Supreme Court, in a Times of India op-ed.
Work in the field of human rights and freedom of expression
Sorabjee is known for his work in the area of the protection of human rights and freedom of speech — an endeavour that eventually won him the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honour, in March 2002.
“If Soli was forced to choose amongst his many passions, I would guess freedom of speech and press would be his choice. His commitment to it has been unfailing and unflagging, never affected by the vicissitudes of contemporary ambiance or the burdens and exigencies of high office,” noted Singhvi.
Sorabjee is also one of the few well known names in the profession who have openly opposed lawyers that charge big bucks. According to him, anyone charging ₹30 to ₹40 lakh is in the business of extortion. "If a man is willing to be robbed, will you be a thief," he said.
The man has many a feather in his cap, including being the chairman of Berlin-based nonprofit organisation Transparency International and the convenor of the Minority Rights Group, in addition to being the special rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) since 1997.
He also worked on the Citizen’s Justice Committee, which represented pro bono — without any legal fees — the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
The champion for freedom of speech and expression also defended the press in many landmark Supreme Court cases revoking censorship orders and bans on publications.
The most recent example of this was lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan’s case. Before the ₹1 verdict came in, Sorabjee felt the apex institution overreacted over a couple of tweets. “The court may at most give a lecture to Prashant (Bhushan) now. Warn him, but not punish him… It is a rather delicate balance to keep,” he told The Hindu.
Sorabjee was born on 9 March 1930 and after studying at St. Xavier’s College and the Government Law College in Mumbai, he enrolled at the Bar in 1953.
Zora Mody, Sorabjee’s daughter, is also a lawyer and a published author. She wrote the book 10 Judgements that Changed India. Sorabjee also has three granddaughters — Anjali, Aarti and Aditi.
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