Justice Nariman: What Made His Judgments Different?

Justice Nariman authored 307 judgments during his 7 year tenure at the SC. What were the trends that made them stand out?

On August 12th 2021, Justice Nariman retired, marking the end of a 7 year tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court. He authored a number of key judgments primarily in the fields of constitutional law, insolvency, tax law and arbitration. Nariman J had a distinct approach in engaging with questions of law.


He would identify the relevant constitutional or legal provisions in a matter, and dissect these provisions word by word in a way that few other judges do. His judgments were also marked by the heavy use of case law.


Nariman J often traced the historical origins of constitutional principles and their evolution in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. In the case of Shreya Singhal v Union of India, he began his opinion by writing four pages on a detailed comparison of the First Amendment of the US Constitution and Article 19 of the Constitution of India. He did this to argue that American jurisprudence on free speech was invaluable and relevant in deciding free speech cases in India.


He regularly made references to religious and literary texts. He began his opinion in Navtej Singh Johar by quoting a line from Lord Alfred Douglas’ Two Lovers – ‘The love that dare not speak its name’. Lord Douglas, who was in a relationship with the Irish poet Oscar Wilde, used this quote to describe the love between same-sex partners.


Narima J’s legacy in the Supreme Court isn’t without controversy. Some have pointed to his judgment in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) Case in 2014. The Bench consisting of Nariman and Gogoi JJ initiated the NRC process in Assam. The Court proceeded to set hard deadlines for the State to complete updating the register of citizens. This process led to four million people being left off the register, placing them in a limbo. Nariman J was also a part of the Bench in the controversial suo moto case In Re: Matter of Great Public Importance touching upon the Independence of Judiciary.


Justice Nariman authored 307 judgments during his tenure, second only to Justice D.Y. Chandrachud amongst sitting judges. His rate of delivering judgments was the 4th highest amongst sitting judges, writing 43.9 judgments per year.


We have looked at Nariman J’s term through numbers here. And his notable judgments here.