Chief Justice Robert Cornelius

Chief Justice Alvin “Bobby” Robert Cornelius  May 1903 – 21 December 1991), HPk, was the Pakistani jurist, legal philosopher and judge, serving as the 4th Chief Justice of Pakistan from 1960 until 1968. Cornelius was born in Agra, Uttar Pradesh in the British Indian Empire, to an Urdu-speaking Christian family. Cornelius graduated from the Allahabad University in India and Selwyn College in the United Kingdom. Cornelius was commissioned into the Indian Civil Service and was the assistant commissioner in the Punjab Province, starting his judicial career in the Lahore High Court in 1943, later joining the Justice department of Punjab government. During this time, Cornelius became a recognised jurist, publishing important text books in Pakistani legal history during his career. Cornelius also became a leading activist for the Pakistan Movement, seeing it as a solution to ill-treatment of Muslims and Christians in the subcontinent and India, while at the same time trying to “revive the nationalism spirit.[1]
In 1946, Cornelius was elevated to associate judge at the Lahore High Court, and opting for Pakistan, Cornelius became an important figure in country’s legal history. Initially serving as the law secretary for Law Minister Jogendra Nath Mandal and Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Cornelius played an integral role setting up the court system while advising the law minister and the prime minister. Among his notable cases included the actions defending Non-Muslims rights (Freedom of religion), Bogra case against the Presidential reserve powers (see inactive Article 58(2)B of the VIII Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan), defending workplace and labour laws, sports law in Pakistan Cricket Board. Cornelius was regarded as a man of justice, warning and fighting against the religious extremism, as he quoted in his case, “A general feeling of [great] despair, a widespread of [self] confidence… and common readiness in the anticipate the worst”.[2]
In 1960, President Ayub Khan nominated Cornelius to become the Chief Justice of Pakistan, his contest was briefly discussed, but eventually he was elevated to Chief Justice.[2] Alvin Robert Cornelius became the first Christian Chief Justice, becoming one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the supreme court.[2] After his departure from the supreme court, Cornelius remained influential and was a symbol protecting the rights of minorities, freedom of religious practices, whilst serving as the legal adviser to successive Government of Pakistan on judicial matters.[2] His opinions, according to legal scholars in Pakistan, were some of the greatest defences of “freedom of religion” written by a Christian Chief Justice of a Muslim state.[3]

Early life

Family roots and education

Alvin Robert Cornelius was born on 8 May 1903, in Agra, United Provinces of British Indian Empire, to a Christian Urdu-speaking class.[4] His family was of the Anglo-Indian ancestry, and his parents Professor I.J. Cornelius and Tara D’ Rozario were the notable figures of the Roman Catholics community India.[4] His father was a professor of mathematics at the college at the princely state of one of the Indore colleges.[5] He was brought up on secular mode while living in secular Urdu-speaking Muslim community, and was a close friend of lawyer Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar.[4] Cornelius was admitted at the Allahabad University after passing the university entrance exam in 1920.[4] After admitting at the law school of the Allahabad University, Cornelius gained his BS in mathematics and LLB in civil law, with writing a comprehensive thesis on history of religious law in 1924.[4]
Cornelius joined the law faculty of the university, working there as a research associate, and winning the government scholarship to pursue further education abroad.[4] The same year, Cornelius went to United Kingdom for his higher education, he was admitted at the Cambridge University, attending the Selwyn College to study law.[4] In 1926, Cornelius graduated with LLM in Law and Justice, and submitted his fundamental thesis on Western law.[4] After reluctantly returning to India, Cornelius took the entrance exam and given commissioned as an officer at the Indian Civil Service, joining the Department of Law of the Government of Punjab.[6]

Career in law

He joined the Indian Civil Service in 1926. He served in Punjab, where he held the positions of Assistant Commissioner and District and Sessions Judge till 1943 when he joined Law Department of Government of Punjab as Legal Remembrancer. In 1946 Mr. Cornelius was elevated to the Bench of Lahore High Court.

Pakistan Movement

Cornelius was the notable Christian figures in the Pakistan Movement, closely collaborating with Mohammad Ali Jinnah.[7] Cornelius was an active activist for the Pakistan Movement, among one of the outspoken speakers of the movement, working to rallying the support for the Pakistan Movement. Unlike the opposition led by renowned Muslim leader Abul Kalam Azad to oppose the division of India, Cornelius felt that the creation of the Muslim homeland in India was one key solution to ill-treatment of Muslims by the British government and the among the leaders of the Congress Party of India, while at same time he revived the nationalism spirit. Cornelius assisted Jinnah drafting the Pakistan Resolution, adding the legal clauses and articles justifying the rights of Muslims majority, non-Muslim communities and the ill-treatment of under-class both Non-Muslims and Muslims by the Congress Party in 1941. His activism grew strong and deeper after accepting a legal position in the Punjab government, where he would go on to establish the court system of the newly created country. Cornelius was among one of the earliest citizens of newly created country, Pakistan, opting the country’s citizenship as well as taking a federal law government assignment in the government of Liaquat Ali Khan.

Supreme Court of Pakistan

From 1950 to 1951, Cornelius served as secretary of Law and Labour at the Ministry of Law, Labour headed by Jogendra Nath Mandal. In 1951, following the assassination Prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan, Cornelius left the government assignment and was appointed as an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in November 1951 and continued as a judge with regular intervals until 1953 when he was confirmed as a senior judge of the Federal Court of Pakistan.

Borgra vs. Governor-General

In 1954, the National Assembly of Pakistan tried to change the constitution to establish checks on the Governor-General’s powers, to prevent a repeat of what had happened to Nazimuddin’s government. In response, Ghulam Muhammad dismissed the Assembly, an action that was challenged in the Supreme Court. Ghulam Muhammad emerged victorious when the Chief Justice Muhammad Munir upheld the dismissal in a split decision, despite the dissenting opinion written by the renowned Justice (later Chief Justice) A. R. Cornelius, and despite protests from the members of the Assembly.

Chief Justice of Pakistan

Justice A.R. Cornelius was appointed as the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 1960.

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