The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) joins millions of Asians and others across the globe to mourn the sad demise of Justice V R Krishna Iyer.
Aged 100, Justice Krishna Iyer passed away on 5 December 2014 in a hospital in Kerala, India. He was a member of AHRC’s advisory group and was an active participant in AHRC’s work in Asia, particularly concerning Sri Lanka, India, and China.
Popularly known as the Chief Justice of the people’s court of India, Justice Krishna Iyer was one of the finest jurists of our times. He retired from the Supreme Court of India after having served the country during some of its most difficult times. Justice Krishna Iyer served at the Supreme Court from 1973 to 1980; this coincided with some of India’s darkest days, i.e. the emergency under the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi.
While India and jurists across the globe have benefited from Justice Krishna Iyer’s legal acumen, perhaps it is the people of the Indian state of Kerala who have most benefited from his legal luminance. Justice Krishna Iyer played a leading role in the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963, a law that permanently redefined Kerala’s social and political landscape, ending feudalism in the state.
As a jurist, Justice Krishna Iyer played an important role in developing India’s constitutional jurisprudence, particularly in terms of defining the power of the President’s office. This prevented India from adopting executive presidency at a time when most countries in Asia shifted from a parliamentary form of governance to presidential rule, and the executive powers of presidents led to dictatorships.
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As a judge, Justice Krishna Iyer was a people’s judge. He had the wisdom and foresight to ensure that even prisoners were allowed to exercise their fundamental rights, given that it is the state’s responsibility to protect these rights. Justice Krishna Iyer liberally interpreted the Constitution, expanding the horizon of the fundamental rights, particularly the right to life and freedom of movement, thereby redefining the Indian state’s responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens.
As a judge, Justice Krishna Iyer played a vital role in saving the Indian Judiciary from political and executive interference; this interference had been so firmly established that many judges who served at the Supreme Court, despite their said integrity, could not diminish. This has made the Indian Judiciary exceptional in Asia, along with three other jurisdictions: Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan.
Justice Krishna Iyer will be missed in the perilous times that lie ahead for India and the region.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.