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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > Somasunderam Nadesan > This Man Nadesan: a Biographical Sketch - Donovan Moldrich

Somasunderam Nadesan Q.C.

This Man Nadesan: a Biographical Sketch

Donovan Moldrich

The life and career of the late Mr. Somasundaram Nadesan, Queen's Counsel, ran parallel with the greater part of the twentieth century. Historians of the future will rate him as the man who excelled his fellow citizens in his concern and advocacy of human rights for all, and social justice for the underprivileged. He died - as he lived - fighting on his feet. Like Cincinnatus, the Roman leader in the fifth century BC he lived a life of utmost simplicity and frugality but his passionate devotion to freedom of thought, expression, and action was Voltairean.

He was born into a conservative Jaffna family in 1904. He was educated at Royal College and the University College. He qualified as a lawyer in 1932 and could like many of his colleagues have specialised in some aspect of civil or criminal law. His versatility and hatred of injustice however drove him in the course of his 55 years at the Bar into several thousands of cases that ranged from defending a humble labourer in a small-town court, to the great "causes celebre" of the century in the highest courts of the land.

Humility was the hallmark of his genius and while he shunned personal and political popularity he never hesitated to shoulder the responsibilities that were thrust on him. He played a leading role in national affairs and in the formulation of the laws of Sri Lanka. He was the only Sri Lankan to sit in the Senate almost continuously from its inception in 1947 until its abolition in 1972.

His dedication to the cause of justice received some recognition when he was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1954 and again in 1969 when he was elected President of the Bar Council which he revitalised into a dynamic force in the public life of the country. His name will always be linked with the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka of which he was a founder member.

He led the legal team from CRM which challenged the Press Council Bill before the Constitutional Court in 1972 and also argued CRM's petition to the Supreme Court on the Kalawana constitutional issue in 1980. An analysis he made on behalf of the CRM of an exercise of judicial power by Parliament resulted in his being tried before the Supreme Court for breach of privilege. The case attracted international attention with the International Commission of Jurists sending an observer to the trial which ended happily with his acquittal. Not long afterwards Mr. Nadesan successfully defended the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka who had been summoned to appear before a Parliamentary Committee because of certain remarks attributed to him in a newspaper.

The Peter Pillai Foundation honoured him with an award for his promotion of social justice but not even his closest associates knew of his innumerable acts of kindness some of which were revealed in Parliament and the Press by beneficiaries after his death on December 21, 1986.

When the judges of the Supreme Court met to pay homage to his memory, Mr. S. Sharvananda, the then Chief Justice, recalled that Mr. Nadesan had asked for the hearing of a case on December 21 and it was only his death that had prevented him from keeping that date. "Though he was well past the biblical span of life and was reaching 84 years of age he was still vibrating with good health, physically fit, and intellectually alert", said Mr. Sharvananda. On behalf of the unofficial Bar, Mr. Nimal Senanayake, then President of the Bar Association, said that with Mr. Nadesan's death Sri Lanka had lost "a champion of democracy".

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