He stood tall

Print edition : January 06, 2017

Justice Syed Mahmood.

Extracts from Justice Syed Mahmood's judgment.

SYED MAHMOOD was born in Delhi on May 24, 1850, and he died on May 8, 1903. After a stint as District Judge, he was elevated to the High Court at the age of 32. He served as judge for a mere seven years but left behind a reputation few equalled and none surpassed. Natesan wrote: “Syed Mahmood was perhaps one of the greatest judges who ever presided over a Chartered High Court in India.” A distinguished Advocate-General of Uttar Pradesh, Dr K.L. Misra, said on November 27, 1966, when the judge’s portrait was unveiled in the High Court: “My Lord, the greatness of this court, the glories of this court are, in a large measure, due to Mahmood. If I were to make a selection today, if there was any kind of comparison of the judiciary of this High Court, the judges of this Court with the judges of the other great courts in the world, and if I had to select a delegate who would represent this High Court, nay the courts of our country in an international assemblage of judges, past and present, I would unhesitatingly choose Mahmood.” The great Justice Sir T. Muthusami Iyer travelled all the way to Allahabad to meet his contemporary.

The Journal has two able essays by Mahavir Singh, District Judge, Kanpur. One of them is on Mahmood’s judgments on Hindu law. “During his seven years’ stay on the Allahabad Bench, he handed down opinions on different branches of Hindu Law. Twenty-five of his opinions, including five Full Bench decisions, have been reported in the Allahabad Series of the Indian Law Reports. These opinions relate to the subjects of (1) widow’s estate, (2) maintenance, (3) restitution of conjugal rights, (4) adoption, (5) stridhan, (6) debts, (7) guardianship of minors, (8) law of missing persons, (9) exclusion from inheritance, and (10) succession to Mahants.”

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote: “It must be said to the credit of Mr Justice Mahmood that at least with respect to the Hindu law, he, like the late Mr Justice Ranade of Bombay, always attempted to reconcile the wisdom of ancient sages to the mixed civilisation of their descendants.” Justice Mahmood well understood the problem that would arise in administering justice according to Hindu law or Muslim law in British-ruled India.

In his essay “Justice Mahmood’s Greatness and Relevance”, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer wrote: “A common civil code is contrary to the spirit of the observation of the Privy Council: ‘It is, in their opinion, opposed to the whole policy of the law in British India … and they can conceive nothing more likely to give just alarm to the Muhammadan community than to learn by a judicial decision that their law, the application of which has been thus secured to them, is to be overridden upon a question which so materially concerns their domestic relations.’”

A.G. Noorani

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