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Late Mr Justice K.K. Mathew

Cite as : (1992) 3 SCC (Jour) 2

With a heavy heart we have learnt from the pages of KLT the sad demise of Justice K.K. Mathew on May 2, 1992. He had been a great inspiration to SCC and a personal friend.

A brilliant jurist-judge Justice Mathew made seminal contribution in the fields of Constitutional and Administrative Law. In him one saw a Cardozo at work bringing new insights and arguments to the delicate task of balancing of competing claims. His depth of learning further reveals itself in his lectures and addresses contained in Democracy, Equality and Freedom Three Lectures. In his Foreword to the former book, Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud said :

"In our present dispensation, a Judge cannot, except for honourable exceptions, lay plausible claim to legal scholarship. Justice Mathew belongs to that exceptional class, as if to prove the rule. His writings and speeches, and not the least his judgments, reflect the uniqueness of his approach as a man and Judge. Not for nothing did the Supreme Court Bar accord to him the rare honour of a speaking farewell on his retirement. The farewell tea, if at all, on the Supreme Court's beautiful though neglected lawns is generally a silent tribute to the retiring Judge. The Bar made a departure, as it rarely does, on the occasion of Justice Mathew's retirement when the President of the Bar paid a glowing tribute to him extolling his manifold qualities. It was evident that he had endeared himself to the Bar, which is the best judge of judges, with his rugged simplicity, his frank and good-humoured sallies, his penetrating analysis and above all his legal scholarship.

I have had the privilege of sitting with Justice Mathew in a number of celebrated cases. I do not hazard the guess, in such close proximity of contemporary history, that future generations will find more acceptable the opinions expressed by him in those cases. But I am confident that further generations will find it rewarding to make a dispassionate study of the views so carefully and felicitously expressed by him in those cases. They will find in the judgments of Justice Mathew a most detached and realistic appraisal of the legalistics arising out of events which shook the nation."

Born on January 3, 1911 at Athirampuzha, Justice Mathew had a very distinguished career as a student. He studied in the St. Ephrem's English High School at Mannanam and later graduated from the Arts College, Trivandrum. He secured the coveted Harvey Memorial Prize in essay competition and also the Victoria Jubilee Scholarship. He took his law degree from the Trivandrum Law College and joined the Bar in 1935. Initially he practiced in Kottayam and then moved on to the High Court at Trivandrum. He worked under late Shri A.J. John. He later shifted to Ernakulam after 1956 and commanded a very lucrative practice in the High Court. In 1960, he was appointed as the Advocate-General to the State of Kerala and in that capacity he distinguished himself as an eminent lawyer and jurist. Justice Mathew was appointed as a Judge of the Kerala High Court on June 5, 1962. He was elevated to the Supreme Court on October 4, 1971 and retired on January 2, 1976. After retirement he adorned the Law Commission of India as its Chairman and was subsequently appointed Chairman of L.N. Mishra's Enquiry Commission, the Boundary Commission and the Press Commission.

Justice Mathew has left a rich legacy of judgments bearing high precedential value. The notable ones that readily come to mind Bennett Coleman, Sukhdev Singh Ambica Mills, St. Xavier, Prabhu Dayal, Khan Chand, Gobind, K.P. Joseph, Gwalior Rayon, Kodar, N.M. Thomas and Kesavananda Bharati followed by Indira Gandhi Election case. In that respect he shall live forever in the pages of the law reports.

The Editorial Board, the Publishers and the Staff of SCC pay their highest tribute to this great Judge and convey their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.

May his soul rest in peace.

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