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Cite as : (2006) PL WebJour 3

Justice Y.K. Sabharwal**

Mr Milon K. Banerji, Attorney General for India and other Law Officers, Mr P.H. Parekh, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and other office-bearers of the Association, learned members of the Bar, ladies and gentlemen,

My Sister and Brother Judges join me in sharing the sentiments expressed at the Bar and in expressing our profound grief at the passing away of late Shri R.L. Kohli, Senior Advocate, who breathed his last on 17-1-2006.

Born on 2-9-1907 to late Shri Mool Raj Kohli and Mrs Navi Kohli, he was brought up by his mother, since he was only 4 years old, when his father had an untimely death at a very young age, leaving the family in stark poverty. It goes to the credit of his mother that she did not allow her financial handicap to come in the way of the education and career of her children and brought them up very admirably.

Shri Kohli did his matriculation from Punjab University and graduation in Law from Law College, Lahore and initially joined the Bar of the Lahore High Court, but, very soon shifted to Kasur, now in Pakistan. After a successful stint at the Kasur Bar, he shifted back to the Lahore High Court and started practising there. By his sheer hard work, meticulous presentation of cases in the Court and exceptional brilliance, he soon carved out a place for himself amongst the young members of the Bar. Watching his performance in a murder trial, Shri Jai Gopal Sethi, a leading criminal lawyer of the Lahore High Court, immediately saw the potentials of the young lawyer and invited him to join his chamber at the salary of rupees three hundred per month, which, at that time was considered to be a princely sum for a young advocate.

The association of Shri Kohli with Shri Jai Gopal Sethi lasted as many as 36 years, till Shri Sethi died in London at the age of 94 years. Late Shri Sethi and Shri Kohli argued together in a large number of murder references and criminal appeals in murder and other important criminal matters in the then Punjab High Court. To every young lawyer, it was a treat watching them there arguing these matters. Those days one could not think of Shri Jai Gopal Sethi without Shri Kohli. Personally, I was fortunate having seen their brilliant performances in the Circuit Bench of the Punjab High Court at Delhi and also in the Delhi High Court for a while. The first reported case in which Shri Kohli appeared in this Court is Mohinder Singh v. State1 Later, sometime in the late sixties or early seventies, Shri Kohli shifted his main practice to this Court.

It did not take long for Shri Kohli to earn a name for himself in this Court as well. His performance in the Supreme Court did not go unrecognised and earned him the privilege of being designated as a Senior Advocate of this Court on 1-10-1977.

In a criminal case much depends upon the way a case is presented and late Shri Kohli excelled in this art. His presentation used to be forceful and incisive, but always gentle. Logic, reasoning, masterly arguments and analytical mind were the weapons with which he used to win over his opponents. He was a fair fighter and a formidable opponent, with utter fearlessness and untiring energy. His arguments were always solid, symmetrically and logically built from the foundation, and always a product of thorough preparation of the facts as well as of law. But, his formidable weapon was his reasonableness and he used it, for making his points, with the aid of a smile on his face. He was a master of facts and, therefore, a master of any situation. He subordinated the law to facts and presented the facts in a manner, which many a times would show that the law, on which the other side relied, had no application, and Mr Kohli walking away with success in the matter.

Some of the prominent cases in which he assisted this Court have already been referred to by the learned Attorney General for India. Other cases include Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab2 where a Constitution Bench of this Court upheld the constitutional validity of death penalty in the context of the right to live, as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution; Maru Ram v. Union of India3 where a Constitution Bench of this Court upheld the validity of Section 433-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure holding that imprisonment for life lasts until the last breath and whatever the length of remissions earned, the prisoner can claim release only if the remaining sentence is remitted by the Government; Satwant Singh Sawhney v. D. Ramarathnam4 in which this Court accepted his contention that the right to live in India and travel outside India falls within the purview of the right to personal liberty, under Article 21 of the Constitution and refusal to give a passport or its withdrawal amount to deprivation of that right, and; Harnath Singh v. State of M.P.5 in which Shri Kohli appeared for the appellant and accepting his arguments, this Court held that a Magistrate, when called upon to conduct a test identification parade should confine his attention only to the steps to be taken to ensure that the witnesses were able to identify certain persons alleged to have been concerned in the commission of the crime or to identify certain things which were said to be the subject-matter thereof and he cannot transgress this limit and record other statements which may have a bearing in establishing the guilt of the accused, since that could be done only in accordance with Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Late Shri Kohli was not only a great lawyer but also a very good human being. A gentlemen to the core, he was always humble, polite, warm, generous and kind to all. He was a very straightforward person who led a simple personal life. He was a rare combination of unquestionable integrity, erudition and friendliness, that earned him respect from all who came in contact with him. He always tried to render legal assistance to those who came to him irrespective of their financial capacity and no one was sent back only because he was not in a position to pay the fee commanded by him. He always had a word of encouragement for the younger members of the Bar and never hesitated in guiding them whenever they approached him for advice on the legal issue confronting them.

In the death of late Shri Kohli we have lost a leading member of the legal profession and a very good human being. He died full of years and honours, deeply loved, affectionately remembered and universally respected.

Late Shri Kohli is survived by six sons and four daughters. His sons Shri Subhash Chand Kohli, Dr. Satish Kohli, Shri Anil Kohli, Shri Ashok Kohli and Shri Neeraj Kohli and daughters Mrs Santosh Kumari, Mrs Usha Talwar and Smt Shashi Malik are settled abroad, whereas, his son Shri R.C. Kohli, daughter Smt Asha Kochhar and a granddaughter are in the legal profession. My Sister and Brother Judges and I share their grief and pray to almighty God to bestow courage on them to bear this loss with fortitude.

May the eternal soul rest in peace.

As a mark of respect for the departed soul and to offer prayer for its resting in peace, we shall stand up and observe silence for two minutes.



Milon K. Banerji+

The Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India, Justice Y.K. Sabharwal; Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court; The President, Shri P.H. Parekh and members of the Executive Committee of the Supreme Court Bar Association; my colleagues, the Solicitor General and Additional Solicitors General of India, ladies and gentlemen of the Bar,

We meet here today to mourn the passing of the legendary master of criminal law, late Shri Ram Lubhaya Kohli.

It was the good fortune of his family, his children and grandchildren to see him active till the age of 99 years though fate decreed that he was not to complete his century.

Like most leading lawyers of his generation, in areas west of the Yamuna in undivided India, Shri Kohli was born in and belonged to what is now in Pakistan. He was born on 2-9-1907 in Sialkot, a city famous and dominant in pre-partition India for manufacturing and supplying all types of sports goods throughout the country. It was thus a thriving industrial city.

Shri Kohli's case is another example of that famous expression used in America from log cabin to the White House in the context of Abraham Lincoln, an entirely self-made man overcoming the greatest of vicissitudes after he lost his father when he was only four years old. It was his determination and brilliance which permitted him to complete his education in Sialkot, then in Jammu College, then again in Government College, Sialkot and thereafter to the well-known Law College at Lahore, the capital of united Punjab. Shri Kohli was a serial winner of first divisions in every one of the examinations in which he appeared from school to college.

Thereafter, he started practising in the High Court of the undivided State of Punjab at Lahore, which had jurisdiction even up to Delhi where Judges would sit on circuit. Later, he decided to shift to Kasur (in Pakistan) in order to work with the famous criminal lawyer, Lala Amar Dass. There he got the lifetime opportunity to appear and assist Lala Amar Dass in the trial of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. This certainly was a landmark in the career of young Ram Lubhaya Kohli. Thereafter, there was no looking back. Remaining with Lala Amar Dass till 1931, he assisted him in many murder trials.

In 1933, Shri Kohli returned to Lahore to practise in the High Court and attained instant success. It was his good fortune that in one case his arguments impressed the then leader of the Bar, late Shri Jai Gopal Sethi, who was also appearing for one of the accused. Shri Sethi asked him to be associated with him, which offer Shri Kohli accepted. Until 1969, when the legendary Shri Jai Gopal Sethi retired from practice, they worked together. They used to conduct several murder references in a day in the Punjab High Court.

Upon partition, the Indian part of the Lahore High Court's jurisdiction was taken over by the newly established Shimla High Court; Shri Kohli shifted to Shimla, a Court which had the good fortune to be presided over by Justice S.R. Das, one of the six great Judges who were the founding fathers of this Hon'ble Court. Coincidentally, when Justice Das moved to Delhi, just before the establishment of the Supreme Court, Shri Kohli also shifted to Delhi.

I am informed that Shri Kohli, during his 72 years at the Bar, had appeared in more than 16,000 murder trials and appeals. Here, I may usefully refer to just a few of the cases where he himself led the arguments independently. In Palvinder Kaur v. State of Punjab6 it was held that confessions and admissions either be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole and that the court is not competent to accept only the inculpatory part while rejecting the exculpatory part as inherently incredible. The Court cautioned against depending on circumstantial evidence and that they should safeguard themselves against the danger of basing their conclusions on suspicion howsoever strong.

Then, in the landmark case of Virsa Singh v. State of Punjab7 where the question of interpretation of Section 300, Thirdly of the Penal Code was involved, the Court held that in order that the said section is attracted the prosecution must establish four elements viz. (i) injury, (ii) nature of injury, (iii) intention to inflict that particular injury, and (iv) the injury was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. It has been held that it is not enough to prove that the injury found to be present is sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature; it must in addition be shown that the injury found to be present was the injury intended to be inflicted.

As mentioned, the cases in which Shri Kohli appeared being legion, it is possible to refer only to a few of them viz.:

(a) Datar Singh v. State of Punjab8,

(b) Nachhattar Singh v. State of Punjab9,

(c) Sucha Singh v. Union of India10, and

(d) Pala Singh v. State of Punjab11

Shri Kohli's field of activity was not limited to criminal law. He appeared in the Justice S.R. Das Commission of Inquiry with regard to Shri Pratap Singh Kairon. I understand that in the year 1977, Shri Kohli was invited by the then Chief Justice of India, Y.V. Chandrachud, to be designated as a Senior Advocate, which initially Shri Kohli was reluctant to accept, recognising that in criminal cases it was difficult to prepare a case keeping oneself completely aloof from clients. But later on he was designated by this Hon'ble Court on 1-10-1977.

His career at the Bar was a glorious one. Starting from humble beginnings, the glittering prizes of the Bar came his way until he decided to retire from practice in the year 2000. He was much loved by the members of the Bar and his juniors for his humane qualities. In his passing, we have lost one of the greatest stalwarts of criminal jurisprudence.

His first rule was to always smile. It is fascinating to learn that just before his death, he called three of his grandchildren and spent time with them as he reflected upon his life and shared with them his life story and the lesson of life. He stressed the importance of being honest, humble and hardworking.

Shri Kohli is survived by six sons and four daughters. He was a fortunate and proud grandfather of 19 grandchildren. The profession has been enriched by Shri Kohli's son, Shri Ramesh Chander Kohli, daughter Mrs Asha Kochhar and granddaughter Ms Ruchi Kohli, who are members of the Bar of this Hon'ble Court.

May I, on behalf of the Bar and myself, extend our deepest condolences to the members of his family on their sad bereavement.

May the soul of Shri Ram Lubhaya Kohli rest in eternal peace.



Pravin H. Parekh*

Hon'ble Mr Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, the Chief Justice of India, Hon'ble Judges of the Supreme Court of India, Mr Milon Banerji, the learned Attorney General for India and his colleagues, the Solicitor General and Additional Solicitors General, the office-bearers of SCBA, my colleagues at the Bar, ladies and gentlemen,

Today we have assembled to pay homage to a "Karma Yogi", a self-made man, a man who lost his father at the age of four leaving behind his mother and two sisters, a man who had a humble beginning, a man who got uprooted due to the partition, a man who faced challenges and struggles with determination, courage and with a smiling face, a man who was compassionate, kind and obliging, a man who was fair and benevolent to everyone who came in contact, a man who lived a full, healthy and meaningful life and a man who had no enemies.

Kohli was born in Sialkot and went to Lahore in search of a job. However seeing one of his friends having joined a Law college, he joined that college in Lahore by borrowing a sum of Rs 150 for the college fees.

After doing law, Mr Kohli started his practice in Lahore and started doing well. He joined Mr Jai Gopal Sethi, Senior Advocate. In 1947, due to partition he got uprooted and had to leave everything there except Rs 2000 in his pocket. Fortunately, he and his large family came to India safely. Once more he was in dilemma whether to take up a job to maintain the family or to practice law with all uncertainties at a new place. He opted for practice at Shimla where the Punjab High Court was shifted and started with few appearances in Delhi and Chandigarh.

In 1955 when this Court shifted to this building from Parliament House, all the agents of the Federal Court and other advocates who desired were automatically made Advocates-On-Record without passing any examination. Mr Kohli opted to become an Advocate-On-Record in 1955.

I met Mr Kohli for the first time in the year 1970. Mr A.G. Ratnaparthi, Advocate went with a very heavy brief in a criminal matter to consult Mr H.R. Gokhale, my senior. The practice in those days was that the advocate would consult the Senior Advocate seeking their opinion, whether it was a fit case to file SLP and would suggest some grounds to be taken. Mr Gokhale told Mr Ratnaparthi that since he was occupied in a heavy part-heard election appeal, he was unable to go through the voluminous records. Mr Ratnaparthi asked Mr Gokhale to suggest whom should he consult. Mr Gokhale advised the name of Mr R.L. Kohli although Mr Kohli was then not a designated Senior Advocate. Since I had studied the papers, Mr Ratnaparthi asked Mr Gokhale if he could take me to Mr Kohli. Mr Kohli went through the whole record of the matter and practically drafted the entire SLP. Mr Kohli asked the client whether they had paid any fees to me and because of that the client paid me Rs 100. Thereafter, I used to have some interaction. Mr Kohli used to tell me how the Judges of this Court felt happy if the Registrar informed them about filing of new matters and the Registrar used to encourage Mr Kohli and other advocates to file cases. Mr Kohli used to enjoy telling us his own experience at the Bar. Mr Kohli appeared both in Pakistan as well as in India in a large number of important and sensational criminal matters. Law reports stand testimony to his contributions in this field.

On 29-3-2000 on the occasion of golden jubilee celebration of this Court the Advocates-On-Record Association had organised a function at the Supreme Court lawns, which was inaugurated by late Mr Krishna Kant, the then Vice-President of India. Chief Justice A.S. Anand presided over the function. The sitting judges and large number of retired judges of this Court attended this function. On that occasion the members of the Bar who had completed 50 years of practice including Mr Kohli were honoured. While finalising the programme, I talked to Mr Kohli who was 93 then, whether I should keep the felicitation of senior members early so that he need not wait for long. Mr Kohli told me that he would stay for the entire performance. He enjoyed the programme and kept the memento in his hand throughout the function. Mr Kohli stayed through the entire function and in fact also joined in the dinner which was held after the function at the Supreme Court lawns. The Supreme Court Bar Association also had earlier felicitated him for completing 50 years at the Bar.

Mr Kohli continued appearing regularly in this Court till 2001 when he attained 95 years of age. Thereafter he frequently used to be in his Supreme Court chamber for a couple of hours. Mr Kohli worked till his last days. Indeed the words of Hidayatullah, C.J. on his retirement in his autobiography My own Boswell that "I knew that life meant that one must continue to occupy his time with work" and Bernard Baruch, a noted American Statesman that "Age is only a number, a cipher for the records. A man can't retire his experience. He must use it" holds true for him. He remained in touch with the members of the Bar till his last days and through his experience provided guidance to them.

Mr Kohli was fluent in English, Punjabi and Urdu. In fact, he used to teach English and Urdu to the son of the famous poet and barrister at law Mohd. Iqbal.

Being the resident of Neeti Bagh, I had the occasion to meet Mr Kohli and his family members on many occasions. He used to go for a walk. He used to participate in the functions held in Neeti Bagh.

Mr Kohli was ever willing to lend a helping hand to the junior members. If he came to know that any junior advocate was going to buy a vehicle or a flat, or was in need even without asking, he would help. Many of my colleagues remember it even today.

Mr Kohli left for his heavenly abode, within three months after his wife. At that age, husband and wife need each other more than before.

About 20 days before his demise, three of his grandchildren had the opportunity to spend time with him as he reflected upon his life. He shared with them his life story and the lessons he had learnt. I asked Mr Ramesh Kohli, the son of Mr Kohli and a member of our Association to publish it in a book form and he told me that he proposes to do so.

A few days back, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud was in Delhi. I informed him about the sad demise of Mr Kohli and he told me that as Chief Justice of India he had called Mr Kohli in his chamber and sought his consent for being designated as a Senior Advocate. He also said that all his colleagues held him in high esteem.

Next morning, I received a call from Justice Chandrachud from Delhi airport telling me that he had left a letter addressed to me at the reception of India International Centre. I would like to quote that letter which is dated 30-1-2006:

"I was sorry to hear from you at the Seminar at the India Habitat Centre yesterday that Mr R.L. Kohli is no more.

Mr R.L. Kohli's career at the Bar was marked by the rarest of the rare qualities. He practised predominantly, almost exclusively, on the criminal side. He was a master of his facts and he applied legal principles to those facts adroitly. He had a native, almost inborn, dislike for citing decided cases. He preferred to depend upon the facts of his case and wore a victorious look when his version of facts was accepted by the learned Judges.

While presenting his side of the case, he meticulously avoided any personal involvement though, he was known for presenting his point of view modestly to a fault. Not only were his clients in safe hands but, if I may say so, even the learned Judges felt that they were in safe hands. Yours sincerely,

sd/- (Y.V. Chandrachud)"

My Lords, we the members of the Bar accept and adopt the verdict of Justice Chandrachud and pray to God Almighty to let Mr Kohli's soul rest in eternal peace.

* On 7-2-2006 at 10.30 am at the Supreme Court, New Delhi. Return to Text

** The Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India Return to Text

  1. 1950 SCR 821 Return to Text
  2. (1982) 3 SCC 24 : 1982 SCC (Cri) 535 Return to Text
  3. (1981) 1 SCC 107 : 1981 SCC (Cri) 112 Return to Text
  4. (1967) 3 SCR 525 Return to Text
  5. (1969) 2 SCR 289 Return to Text
  6. + Attorney General for India Return to Text
  7. 1953 SCR 94 : AIR 1952 SC 354 Return to Text
  8. 1958 SCR 1495 : AIR 1958 SC 465 Return to Text
  9. (1975) 4 SCC 272 : 1975 SCC (Cri) 530 Return to Text
  10. (1976) 1 SCC 750 : 1976 SCC (Cri) 182 Return to Text
  11. 1987 Supp SCC 127 Return to Text
  12. (1972) 2 SCC 640 : 1973 SCC (Cri) 55 Return to Text

* President, Supreme Court Bar Association Return to Text

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