Monday, June 23, 2008

Understanding Seervai


H.M.Seervai: Doyen of Indian Constitutional Law – An Australian Appreciation by Justice Michael Kirby (Universal Law Publishing Co., New Delhi, 2008), is a fitting tribute to Seervai. This book reproduces the Seervai Centenary Memorial Lecture delivered by Justice Kirby in January 2007.

In his foreword to the book, T.R.Andhyarujina says had Seervai met Justice Kirby in his lifetime, they would have become intellectual companions. TRA draws attention to Justice Kirby’s questioning Seervai’s testamentary prohibition on posthumous editions of his work. Kirby urges that a new edition should be produced to keep Seervai’s legacy alive not only in India, but in other constitutional democracies where Indian judicial authority is increasingly being cited.

Asking what does one see today, in the 21st century, 10 years after his death (he died on the Republic Day in 1996 – what a coincidence!), on looking into Seervai’s Constitutional Law, Kirby answers the following:

First, there is the uniquely opinionative character of the text. This is deliberate, not accidental. Second, Seevai’s prose is sharp to the point of administering a personal sting. Third, Seervai tackles controversy that others might have been inclined to allow to pass. His discussion of attempted impeachment of Justice V.Ramaswami, a Judge of the Supreme Court, in his fourth edition is cited as an instance. Fourth, he was greatly influenced by traditions of the law in the India in which he grew up. Fifth, Seervai repeatedly demonstrated his love of history, and respect for it, as the necessary setting for constitutional elaboration. Sixth, Seervai reflects a narrower view than would often now be held concerning the importation of political, economic and social concepts into the task of constitutional interpretation.

Kirby recalls several instances of Supreme Court Judgments holding Seervai’s work in the highest esteem, and citing his work as an authoritative source of legal principle and analysis.

Kirby says: “No author, even one so great as Seervai, has the right to speak beyond the grave and to forbid a new edition to a work so important, basic and instrumental in the life of Indian democracy.” The book includes an introduction to “evoking H.M.Seervai” by H.M.Seervai’s wife, Feroza H.Seervai, and a tribute by TRA himself.

The link to Kirby's original speech on Seervai is here.
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