Obituary: Justice Mittra Sikri

Sarv Mittra Sikri, lawyer and jurist, born Lahore India 26 April 1908, Chief Justice of India 1971-73, married 1937 Leila Ali Khan (one son), died New Delhi 24 September 1992.

SARV MITTRA SIKRI, a former Chief Justice of India, was one of the country's sharpest legal brains and presided over several historic cases unmindful of the political fall-out from his adjudications.

One of India's few chief justices to preserve judicial independence from political interference and the vested interests of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in her 15-year authoritarian rule, Sikri specialised in international law. He represented newly independent India at the UN Committee on Codification and Development of International Law and was a member of the International Law Association Committee on Rivers.

But he is best remembered for striking down, both as a Supreme Court Justice and later as Chief Justice, politically sensitive and sensational cases dealing with constitutional amendment, including the Golaknath case for the enforcement of fundamental rights, and the abolition of the privy purses of several hundred former rulers of Indian states.

These were issues that a politically crafty, albeit insecure, Mrs Gandhi was forcing, despite a flagrant breach of contract and constitutional propriety, to bolster her party's flagging political fortunes. She tried to bring pressure upon the Supreme Court judges to vindicate her. Sikri, who presided over or was a member of the judges' bench on all these cases, ignored Gandhi's covert coercions and, much to her wrath, ruled against parliament.

In one of his judgments, dealing with the election of VV Giri as president of India, Sikri referred to Gandhi as a liar, an observation she neither forgot nor forgave. Despite his immense capabilities and accepted tradition, she never appointed him a state governor or ambassador or to any quasi-government organisation or commission. But such was Sikri's integrity and legal credibility that, 11 years after laying down office, he was made head of the Citizens' Inquiry Commission into the anti-Sikh pogrom that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination by two Sikh bodyguards in 1984. And, though the commission had no legal locus standi, its findings succeeded in confirming to a disbelieving public the involvement of police officers and senior Congress politicians in inciting India's worst ever riots.

Sikri was born in Lahore (then in India) in 1908, the son of an eminent doctor, and after graduating from Government College, Lahore, he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. In 1929 he was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn and returned home a year later to practise as one of the youngest criminal lawyers at the Lahore High Court in 1930. In 1947 he was asked to advise independent India's government on the dispute over sharing the Indus river waters with the newly created Pakistan. He was appointed Advocate General of Punjab in 1951 and was the first ever to be elevated directly to the Supreme Court in 1964. He became India's 13th Chief Justice in 1971 and retained the ascendancy of the Supreme Court until he retired in 1973.

Shy and unassuming, Sikri was a charming and quietly humorous person, passionately fond of golf which he doggedly continued to play for years despite a debilitating ailment. A formidable tennis player - he was a Cambridge blue - he once had one of his wrists specially broken and re-set to gain greater flexibility and went on to win several local championships in India and abroad.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones