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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > Somasunderam Nadesan > Sri Lanka Supreme Court Reference, 1987
Reference to Death of late Mr.S.Nadesan, Queens Counsel
made in Sri Lanka Supreme Court in Ceremonial Sitting
at Hulftsdorp, Colombo, Sri Lanka at 10.00 in the forenoon on 16 January 1987
|"...Nadesan was a front rank lawyer who was a crusader for human rights and an aggressive champion of social justice...He will be gratefully remembered by many a person coming from various strata of our society. The Civil Rights Movement has lost one of its founder members and an ardent human rights activist and the country has lost a pre eminent lawyer with a social conscience..." Sri Lanka Chief Justice S.Sharvananda|
The Honourable Suppiah Sharvananda, Chief Justice
The Honourable R.S. Wanasundera , Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable Percy Colin-Thome, Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable Parinda Ranasinghe, Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable E.A.D. Atukorale, Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable,H.D. Tambiah, Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable L.H.de. Alwis, Judge of the Supreme Court
The Honourable O.S.M. Seneviratne, Judge of the Supreme Court.
The Honourable H.A.G. de Silva, Judge of the Supreme Court
Ranjan Perera Esquire, Registrar of the Supreme Court
and a representative gathering of both branches of the Profession
The Honourable, the Attorney General:
Hardly a day has passed since Mr. Nadesan's death some weeks ago without an appreciation in some newspaper or other, from among the very large circle of friends, admirers and a grateful public.
He graced the Bar for 55 years and lived up to his 83rd year when most others would have outlived their usefulness to society. However, when Mr. Nadesan died, it was on everyone's lips that his demise was a tragedy. A lawyer who for decades had fought and continued to fight right up to the time of his death for many a cause was no more.
He was a student at the Jaffna Hindu College and came over later to Royal College on winning the Governor's Scholarship. A colleague of his who was with him at Royal College mentioned to me a few days ago an incident in his class in the year 1921, which he recalled. A foreign teacher referred to the great philosophers of the western world and in answer to a query why there were no such great men in the East at that time, the teacher referred to Gauthama Buddha. Thereupon there was a sneer in the class which was understandable in the context of the composition of the class in the colonial days of that time. It was then that young Nadesan jumped up and rebuked those in the class responsible for this and implored them not to exhibit such servile mentality. It was this same fiery spirit that manifested itself throughout his life.
He stood up for certain principles, regardless of the consequences. He had one of the most incisive and logical minds and for counsel of his eminence there was no distinction between civil, criminal or constitutional matters. He handled all of them with equal facility and left his indelible impression in all branches of the law.
Lord Macmillan said that the duty of the advocate is five fold . In the discharge of his office the advocate has a duty to his client, a duty to his opponent, a duty to the Court, a duty to himself and a duty to the State and added that "to maintain a perfect poise amidst these various and sometimes conflicting claims is no easy feat." However, Mr. Nadesan performed this feat with ease. He would graciously concede matters of facts or law, even if they were unfavourable to his case He would narrow down his case to only a few matters which he would emphasis were basic. From then on, he would with patience unravel his submissions. The written submissions which he often handed over at the end of a protracted case evidenced not only the logic of his reasoning but also the dedication with which he espoused the cause of his client.
Future generations will remember him not merely for his triumphs at the Bar but for the dynamic and valiant efforts he made throughout his long and eventful career, to preserve through the judicial process, the cherished values of any democratic society.
Nimal Senanayake, President's Counsel and the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka:
This nation has lost a champion of democracy. In a country whose Constitution proclaims that it is a Democratic Republic many have to protest that they cherish democratic ideals. They do so as mere slogans to be forgotten as quickly as they are uttered. But Mr. Nadesan in his sagacity knew that those cherished ideals were indispensable for the progress of a nation, that there could be no progress without a sense of national dignity, and national dignity comes only each and every citizen known that each and every other citizen is assured of fair play. It is this pre occupation with fair play which made Mr. Nadesan such a relentless fighter against arbitrariness and corruption.
Yet, Mr. Nadesan was not dogmatic in any matter. He could always be persuaded to change his point of view. A classic instance was when Mr. Nadesan as a Senator supported the infliction of the death penalty. Later he acknowledged the total irrationality of the death penalty and became a member of the Committee for the abolishment of the death penalty.
A combination of his insistence on justice for all and his rational approach to any case won him recognition in almost every field of law whether in matrimonial disputes, money claims, company law, arbitration or constitutional law. Dearest to his heart however were those cases where he had to secure the freedom of an individual or the Press.
He had his weakness. When a press photographer was dealt with by parliament for a breach of Parliamentary privilege, Mr. Nadesan's ire was aroused. He volunteered a penetrating critique of Parliament's attitude which he criticised as lacking a proper appreciation of what Parliamentary privilege was all about. The members of that August assembly resenting his expose reacted with proceedings against Mr. Nadesan. He appeared to revel in being made a martyr to a cause, much to the consternation of his friends and seemed merely disappointed when he was acquitted. He could chuckle at his own situation. When I congratulated him he told me that the court had acquitted him after giving all the reasons for a conviction when usually it is the other way round.
My Lords there are many men and women here and abroad who walk as free persons because of Mr.Nadesan. To them and his friends, to the Judges and the Bar and above all to the members of his family his passing away was a sad blow. May Your Lordship be pleased to communicate these proceedings to the members of his family .
The Honorable Chief Justice:
On behalf of the Judges of this Court, I associate myself with the tributes paid by you to the late Mr. S. Nadesan.
When just before the Christmas vacation Mr.Nadesan got an appeal especially fixed for hearing on the 21st of this month, neither he nor others in Court had any reason to suspect that he would not be able to keep the date. Though he was well past the biblical span of life and was reaching 83 years of age next month, he was still vibrating with good health, physically fit and intellectually alert, nobody looking at him would have said that death was waiting next door to pounce on him. Mr. Nadesan passed away from our midst on the 21st of last month, The large gathering that had assembled at his funeral inspite of heavy rain at Kanatte on the 22nd was an index of the esteem, respect and affection in which he was held by members of the Bar and the public, irrespective of race, religion or party.
Mr,Nadesan was a distinguished old boy at Jaffna Hindu College and Royal College which he entered on a scholarship. After passing out as an Advocate in 1931, he started practice in Colombo. It was only after some struggle that he was able to find his feet at Hultsdorp. But, once he survived the testing period which a junior without the advantage of any legal connection has to endure, he by sheer dint of merit climbed the spiral stairway of success and became a Queen's Counsel in 1954. That according to the high standards of the day he fully deserved that honour of silk was undisputed.
His services were much in demand in the several Courts and tribunals in the Island. It could be said of several eminent lawyers that they specialised and made their mark in the civil or criminal side or in the original or appellate Court or in some commercial subject or other. But it can be said of only Mr. Nadesan that be was an all-rounder, quite at home whether it be in the Privy Council, Supreme Court, Election Court, the Income Tax Board of Review or Industrial Arbitrator or Parliamentary Committee. I am told that the performance before the Parliamentary Committee where he appeared for the last Chief Justice was simply brilliant.
In 1943, during the height of the second world war when Ceylon was a crown Colony Mr,Nadesan appeared in the Colombo Assize Court for Mr. Aziz , who faced a charge of sedition and secured an acquittal inspite of a hostile bench. Mr.Aziz and witnesses of the trial are still full of praise for Mr. Nadesan's forensic talent.
Mr. Nadesan as recently as a few months ago appeared in the High Court ,Colombo for Mr. Paul Nallanayagam, a Canadian citizen who was indicted for treason. After a hard-fought and doughty trial Mr. Nallanayagam was acquitted. The acquittal is in a great measure attributable to the matchless skill and advocacy of Mr.Nadesan.
The secret of Mr. Nadesan's success as a lawyer was his keen sense of relevancy, his grasp of fundamental principles of law and his uncanny perception of the weak points in his opponent's case. He had a flair for detecting the flaws in his opponent's case and reasoning. No perjurer could get off his hands without being exposed. He never bullied witnesses but would laugh with an adverse witness and laugh out the opposite party's case.
Mr. Nadesan ably expounded the cause of the freedom of the Press when he challenged the Press Council Bill before the Constitutional Court in 1975. The 1978 Constitution gave the opportunity to Mr. Nadesan to expatiate on Fundamental Rights, when such rights were made justiciable before the Supreme Court. He was a passionate advocate of Fundamental Rights. His exposition of Fundamental Rights gave a new dimension to the concept of Fundamental Rights . He was dedicated to the championship of Human Rights. His role as a human right activist is too be well known to be dwelt upon here. So is his role as a Senator. His sober , enlightened, and critical contribution to the Senate debates vindicated the high regard in which he was held by all the political parties of the day.
Mr. Nadesan believed not only in a sound mind but also in a sound body. If I may strike a personal note, his advice to me always was not to neglect my health, but to keep physically fit. He believed in nature cure and made a special study of it and freely made available the benefit of his knowledge to any suppliant.
Mr. Nadesan was a versatile person. One can dwell at length on his multi-faceted personality. He was not without his professional and political detractors; who has not? But there is no denying the fact that he was a dynamic personality who made a lasting impact in the sphere of law and politics. He was a front rank lawyer who was a crusader for human rights and an aggressive champion of social justice. He is a class by himself. He can never be imitated. He has left a void in the legal world. He will be gratefully remembered by many a person coming from various strata of our society. The Civil Rights Movement has lost one of its founder members and an ardent human rights activist and the country has lost a pre eminent lawyer with a social conscience.