Jinnah And The Chief Justice
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is seen on Pakistani rupees in Pakistan. (Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg)

Jinnah And The Chief Justice


In August 1947, on the eve of Independence, the outgoing British Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Sir Leonard Stone, desperately applied to Mohammed Ali Jinnah for a job as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Jinnah’s unpleasant farewell at the Bombay High Court a few months before might help explain why he turned Stone down.

Jinnah And The Chief Justice

Chamber and Reception

In March 1947, Stone asked Jinnah to give up his chamber in the High Court premises. Jinnah, who had just completed fifty years as a member of the Bombay Bar, occupied Room No. 11 on the ground floor of that court, which is now a judge’s chamber. On March 12, 1947, SJ Rahimtoola, the Prothonotary and Senior Master of the High Court, on Chief Justice Stone’s instructions, wrote to Jinnah and reminded him that “[f]or the last several years you have not been practising in the High Court”. Jinnah’s chamber was then being occupied by Motilal Setalvad, who would go on to become independent India’s first Attorney General, and who was paying the chamber’s rent. “As you are now not practising”, Rahimtoola continued, Chief Justice Stone “would like the position to be regularised by transferring the tenancy to Mr. Setalvad.” The letter ended with a request to Jinnah to “release the tenancy” of his chamber from April 1, 1947.

A few days later, on March 20, 1947, Jinnah responded and told Rahimtoola to inform Chief Justice Stone that “there is no chance of my coming to practise at the High Court and hence, I think, in fairness I must release Room No. 11 of which I was a tenant for many years.” He asked Rahimtoola to “convey my thanks to the Chief Justice for his courtesy in allowing me to keep my lien on the room for so long a period”.

In the meantime, on March 17, 1947, CM Trivedi, the Honorary Secretary of the Bombay Bar Association, wrote a letter to Jinnah and informed him that since Jinnah had completed fifty years as a member of Bombay Bar, the Bombay Bar Association had “decided to hold a reception in your honour”. He asked Jinnah for some “date suitable to you…when the reception proposed to be held in your honour may be fixed.” However, Jinnah replied on March 25 and refused the invitation. “According to my information”, he wrote back, the resolution of the Bombay Bar Association to hold a reception in Jinnah’s honor was “carried by 37 votes against 35”. Nearly as many members of the association had voted against Jinnah’s reception as those who had voted in its favor. “[I]n face of such a strong opposition,” he wrote, “while I am grateful to the majority, I am reluctant to force myself upon a large body of unwilling members of your Association.” He added that he wished the “sponsors of this move” had consulted him in advance over whether a resolution to hold a reception in his honor should be “forced by a majority”.

Jinnah’s Search for Britons

A few months went by and Jinnah started looking for British officers to head Pakistani institutions. For instance, in June 1947, Jinnah asked HL Ismay, Winston Churchill’s military advisor during the Second World War, to find a “first-class constitutional lawyer and first-class draftsman to help Pakistan with their constitution making.” Ismay recommended several British lawyers to Jinnah, including Sir Maurice Gwyer, former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of India, and Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who later became the chairman of the commission to draw up the boundaries between India and Pakistan. That following month, in July 1947, Jinnah confirmed the appointment of Lieutenant-General Sir Frank Messervy as the Commander of the Pakistan Army, Commodore Jefford as the Rear Admiral of the Royal Pakistan Navy, and Air Vice-Marshal A.L.A. Perry-Keene as head of the Royal Pakistan Air Force. Jinnah thanked Mountbatten profusely for securing the appointment of “these distinguished officers, who,” he added, “I am sure will serve Pakistan with all their heart and loyalty to the State.”

Lord and Lady Mountbatten meet Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1947. (Photograph: U.K. Imperial War Museum)
Lord and Lady Mountbatten meet Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1947. (Photograph: U.K. Imperial War Museum)

However, on August 9, 1947, Mountbatten wrote a letter to Jinnah recommending a British judge for the Chief Justiceship of the Pakistan Supreme Court. That judge was none other than Leonard Stone, the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, who had asked Jinnah, a few months ago, to give up his chamber in that court. “I do not know what your plans are in connection with the Supreme Court of Pakistan”, wrote Mountbatten to Jinnah, “but knowing your views on British judges I thought you might like to have a British Chief Justice at all events to begin with.” “The best British judge in the opinion of those whom I have consulted”, he added, “is undoubtedly Sir Leonard Stone, the Chief Justice of Bombay.” Mountbatten told Jinnah that Stone, whom he had met over dinner, “seemed very keen to help build up the Supreme Court of Pakistan in which he is very interested.”

Stone was soon going to be replaced by Justice MC Chagla, who would become the first Indian Chief Justice in the history of the Bombay High Court. However, Stone wished to continue as a judge in India. He therefore wrote a formal letter to Mountbatten requesting him to put in a word with Jinnah about his appointment. “I think everybody is agreed”, he wrote, “that it would be impossible for me to continue as Chief Justice of Bombay and, therefore, the question arises whether there is any other appointment in this country, where my services could be usefully employed.” “A suggestion has been made”, he added, “that Mr. Jinnah might favourably consider having an English Chief Justice for the Supreme Court of Pakistan.” “If this were so and my services in that appointment would be welcomed by Mr. Jinnah and his Government”, he concluded, “I should certainly be prepared to consider such an offer.”

A Stone Cold Snub

However, despite having sought a Briton for drafting the Pakistani Constitution, and though he had deeply thanked Mountbatten for securing the appointment of British officers to head Pakistan’s armed forces, Jinnah snubbed Stone’s overtures for being appointed to the Pakistan Supreme Court. On August 15, 1947, Jinnah was administered his oath of office as Governor General of Pakistan by Justice Sir Abdul Rashid, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court. A few days later, in a letter to Mountbatten on August 26, 1947, he wrote, “I will not be able to entertain Sir Leonard Stone’s proposal in offering his services to build up the Supreme Court of Pakistan which I appreciate.” “This question”, he added, “will have to be considered later on, and I therefore regret I cannot make any offer to him as Chief Justice at present.”

Eventually, Sir Abdul Rashid became the first Chief Justice of Pakistan while Stone served as a judge in North England for several years thereafter. Jinnah himself died of heart failure only a year later, on September 11, 1948.

Given his enthusiasm for British officers, it is puzzling why Jinnah did not appoint Stone, the Chief Justice of one of the most prestigious High Courts of British India, to the Chief Justiceship of Pakistan’s highest court.

One possible explanation is that being forced to give up his chamber after so many years and the acrimony over his reception at the Bombay Bar Association had left a sour taste in Jinnah’s mouth, leaving him to want as little to do with the Bombay High Court as possible.

Source: Z.H. Zaidi (ed.), Jinnah Papers (Islamabad: National Archives of Pakistan, 1994)

Abhinav Chandrachud is an advocate at the Bombay High Court.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bloomberg Quint or its editorial team.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.