Eminent jurist and former Supreme Court judge, , passed away at a private hospital in Kochi around 3.30 p.m. on Thursday. He died due to renal and cardiac failure, hospital sources said. He was hospitalised for a fortnight.
Justice Iyer, known for his forthright views, turned 100 recently. He was sworn in as the judge of the Supreme Court on July 17, 1973 and retired at the age of 65 on November14, 1980.
Born to a leading criminal lawyer V.V. Rama Ayyar in 1915 in Thalassery, Justice Iyer had his education at the Basel Mission School, Thalassery, Victoria College, Palakkad, Annamalai University and Madras Law College. After starting legal practice in 1937 under his father in the Thalassery courts, he used to appear for workers and peasants in several agrarian struggle-related cases in his early years of practice.
He became a member of the Madras Legislative Assembly in 1952. He held portfolios such as law, justice, home, irrigation, power, prisons, social welfare and inland navigation in the first Communist government in Kerala headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad that came to power in 1957. He was instrumental in passing several pieces of people-oriented legislations during his tenure as minister in the Communist government.
He resumed his legal practice in August 1959 and threw himself into the legal profession after he lost the 1965 Assembly election. He was appointed a judge of the Kerala High Court on July 2, 1968. He was elevated as Judge of the Supreme Court on July 17, 1973, and retired on November, 14, 1980. He served as a Member of the Law Commission from 1971 to 1973.
His landmark judgments include the Shamser Singh case which interpreted the powers of the Cabinet vis-à-vis the President, Maneka Gandhi case which gave a new dimension to Article 21, Ratlam Municipality case, and Muthamma’s case. He had pushed for reformative theory, in contrast to deterrence theory in the criminal justice system. He also received brickbats for granting conditional stay on the Allahabad High Court verdict declaring former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s election to the Lok Sabha void.
In 2002, Justice Iyer was part of the citizen’s panel that inquired into the Gujarat riots along with retired justice P.B. Sawant and others. He was conferred with Padma Vibhushan in the 1999. He had unsuccessfully contested to the post of President against Congress nominee late R. Venkitaraman in 1987. He also headed the Kerala Law Reform Commission in 2009. He has to his credit around 70 books, mostly on law, and four travelogues. Wandering in Many Worlds is his autobiography. He has also authored a book in Tamil, Neethimandramum Samanvya Manithanum.
He has been actively involved in social and political life after his retirement, almost till a few weeks when ill-health and advancing age took their toll on him. His 100th birthday was celebrated in Kochi last month and a number of programmes were organised by members of the legal fraternity, citizenry and his friends and well-wishers to felicitate him. Justice Iyer’s wife predeceased him. He is survived by two sons.
The body of Justice Iyer will be taken to the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Kadavanthra, on Friday, where members of the general public will be able to pay homage to the departed jurist, said M.G.Rajamanikyam, Ernakulam district collector. The funeral will take place at Ravipuram crematorium at 6 p.m. on Friday, he said.