India: Obituary: Justice NK Sodhi, a gentle legal giant

The Hindustan Times reports..

Chief justice NK Sodhi is no more. Son of illustrious late Justice HR Sodhi, he was a legal doyen in his own right. Graduating law from Panjab University in 1965, his professional expertise as a court counsel, led him to elevation to the Bench in 1991.

He donned the esteemed positions of Chief Justice at Kerala and Karnataka high court. Upon superannuation in 2005, he held office for six years at Securities Appellate Tribunal, Mumbai. He mastered a new subject and in 2013, authored ‘Report of High Level Committee to Review SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations’, a subject alien to him. His return to Chandigarh in 2011 saw him turning a new leaf and getting actively involved as an arbitrator. Working and learning never stopped.

My fond association with Justice Sodhi began in the corridors of the high court in 1986. As a sought-after senior counsel in labour and company matters, he was ever available for guidance, tips of court craft and assistance to fledgling lawyers like myself. He was enriched as a walking encyclopedia in his law specialization. His multifarious legal personality knew no bounds. He remained the editor of ‘High Court Indian Law Reports’ for over 10 years and taught as a part-timer at the law department of Panjab University for 13 years, teaching tax and labour laws. He is affectionately remembered in the local legal fraternity, academic, practicing and on the Bench. His instant Punjabi and English wit, humour, vibrant and jovial personality connected him to all. He made friends with all.

Numerous petitions challenging reduction of disability pension by controller, defense accounts of personnel, boarded out of defence service, led to the first-ever Defense Pension Adalat in 1999 at Chandigarh, under the able control of Justice NK Sodhi. As the central government’s standing counsel, I worked closely with him. I learnt amiable traits. Impressionable prints were ingrained. Spot redressal of grievances at the high court resolved a huge number of cases. The then defence minister George Fernandes lauded the project.

Court etiquettes, politeness, punctuality, courtesies, cordiality and warmth, his court management was perfection. Patient hearing, compliance of court procedures, fairness and affording equal treatment to members of the Bar were his cherished traits. His fond habit of repeating his observations eloquently, gave you reaction time to respond with clarity. His mannerisms of court craft as a Judge were ingenious. A stickler of honesty and integrity, full of candor, his virtues were an epitome to emulate. Retirement did not end his zest and zeal to keep working. A gentleman of good tastes, he ensured bending the elbow on home visits. His recent past saw him battling with leukemia and frequent hospitalisations at PGI. Regardless, his willpower to keep going never ended. My frequent messages to him to join in webinars or discussions were very politely responded, expressing indisposition. I reciprocated with cheerful ‘get-well soon’ greetings and happy messages, pretending ignorance. The morale had to be kept high. I always wished to keep him updated with whatever I did, which he cherished. He often articulated praise on the writings of my son Ankit, which I shared with him. His ailment was never in the way.

Steadfast on his values and principles, he was what a Judge ought to be. He lived his life, with his rules and ethics, and stood them till the end, never influenced by fear or favour. His smiling face, a cheery hello, always drew me to him. Adieu Judge. Rest in peace.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based practising lawyer)