Former attorney general, Padma Vibhushan awardee Soli Sorabjee dies during treatment for COVID-19

Former Attorney General and Constitutional law expert Soli Sorabjee passed away on Friday morning after getting infected with COVID-19. The 91-year-old had served as the Attorney General for India from 1989 till 90 and then from 1998 till 2004. He was admitted to a private hospital in South Delhi after getting infected with COVID-19.

Sorabjee was born in erstwhile Bombay in 1930 and began his legal practice at the Bombay High Court in 1953. He was designated as a senior advocate by the Supreme Court of India in 1971. In 1997, he was appointed by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur for Nigeria to report on the human rights situation in that country.

He also became a member and later chairman of the UN-Sub Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, from 1998 to 2004. He is a member of the United Nations Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities since 1998 and also served as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague from 2000 to 2006.

Among the landmark cases of his career are Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978), SR Bommai v. Union of India (1994), and BP Singhal v. Union of India (2010). In 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases, Sorabjee worked with Citizen’s Justice Committee and took the case pro bono for the victims. In 2002, he became a member of the Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution of India.

In March 2002, he was conferred the Padma Vibhushan award for his defense of freedom of speech and the protection of human rights. In a career spanning nearly seven decades, he was involved in many freedom of speech cases and his publications on the subject include The Laws of Press Censorship in India (1976); and The Emergency, Censorship and the Press in India, 1975-77 (1977).

Sorabjee was one of the prime architects of the annual Jazz Yatra and maintained that jazz left a deep influence in the way he practised law, according to a Hindustan Times report. It made him improvise as the situation demanded inside a court, he had said.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana consoling the death stated that Sorabjee's "humane and compassionate approach defined his legal work”. "Shri Soli J Sorabjee served the office of Attorney General of India twice with great distinction. His body of work, spread over nearly seven decades, in defending the fundamental rights and human rights is of international repute. He will be remembered as a legend who added strength to the pillars of democracy. I pay my deep respect to the departed soul. Condolences to the family, friends and fans," read the statement issued by CJI Ramana.

Union Minister Smriti Irani described him as a "giant giant" who was always "ready to lend a helping hand”. Former BJP MP and veteran journalist Swapan Dasgupta said Sorabjee was a "great lawyer, a man of erudition and above all a perfect gentleman".