Alvin Robert Cornelius

8 May 1903
21 Dec 1991
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Chief Justice Alvin “Bobby” Robert Cornelius (Urdu: الوین رابرٹ كورنيليس; 8 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. In addition, he served as Law Minister in the cabinet of Yahya Khan.

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.

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 despair, a widespread of confidence… and common readiness in the anticipate the worst”.

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. 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.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.

Alvin Robert Cornelius was born on 8 May 1903, in Agra, United Provinces of British Indian Empire, to a Christian English-speaking family. 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 IndiaHis father was a professor of mathematics at the college at the princely state of one of the Indore colleges.He was a close friend of lawyer Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar.Cornelius was admitted at the Allahabad University after passing the university entrance exam in 1920.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.

Cornelius joined the law faculty of the university, working there as a research associate, and winning the government scholarship to pursue further education abroad.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.In 1926, Cornelius graduated with LLM in Law and Justice, and submitted his fundamental thesis on Western law.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.

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.

Cornelius was the notable Christian figures in the Pakistan Movement, closely collaborating with Mohammad Ali Jinnah.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.

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.

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.

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

Legal mode of thought in the first 20 years of Pakistani history was dominated by two opposite currents: pro-secular and pro-Islamic. A peaceful co-existence of these two currents is precisely what distinguishes the first 20 years (1947 to 1966) from the next twenty (1967–1987), when the two currents became increasingly divergent in Pakistan.

The pro-secular tendency was apparently inherited from the colonial past, and was widespread among the intelligentsia and the educated. For a number of reasons it has been epitomised by Justice Muhammad Munir (1895–1979), who was the main author of the Munir Report (1954) about the anti-Ahmedi riots in Punjab. The report has long been hailed as a masterpiece of secular values.

Therefore, it is often seen as a matter of surprise that the same judge, after being promoted as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, upheld the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by Governor-General Malik Ghulam Muhammad soon thereafter. Yet, it might help to remember that Munir’s argument in favour of dictatorship – his famous ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ that provided excuse to all subsequent dictators – was also rooted in his western learning just like his secularism (he supported his argument on a maxim of the 13th century British jurist Henry de Bracton).

That it was left to a Christian to present the case of Islam at the highest ladder of jurisprudence in the formative phase of the Pakistan would be regarded by some as a paradox, and by others as corroboration of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream. Alvin Robert Cornelius was a relentless defender of Sharia, and arguably played the most important role in inculcating some Islamic values in the legal institutions of Pakistan.

The cornerstones of his legal philosophy may be summarised in three points: (a) Law has a moral function in society; (b) Law should be culture-sensitive; and (c) Islam is a valid foundation for a universal society. How he built upon these simple ideas in his 57 speeches and papers, and how he demonstrated them through his judgments, is what makes him arguably one of the greatest legal philosophers.

In 1954, when the bench headed by Chief Justice Munir upheld the decision of the Governor-General to dissolve the constituent assembly, Cornelius was the only judge to write a note of dissent. Four years later, when the same court upheld the case of Dosso against the Martial law authorities, Cornelius wrote a concurrent judgment (i.e. he agreed with the decision but felt the need to explain himself separately). He observed that Fundamental rights are inalienable, and cannot be suspended even by martial law. This point of view was so different from the rest that it was later seen as a “note of dissent”.

However, Cornelius’ concept of inalienable rights seems to be slightly different from how the issue is usually projected. He was of the opinion that the people deserved to feel secure that law shall safeguard their cherished values and norms. In ‘Crime and Punishment of Crime’, the paper which he read at an international conference in Sydney in August 1965, he mentioned several cases to indicate “the extent to which the law supports the indigenous disciplines operating in our society, through the authority of the elders.” For similar reasons, he defended the indigenous institution of jirga as well as the punishments prescribed by Sharia for crimes like theft and robbery.

Acutely aware of the tendency to treat each individual as an island, Cornelius offered a few words of caution to his international audience, and his words reflected the ethos of his new nation that had come into being with the specific goal of rediscovering society as an organic unity. “It must be recognised that crime is a biological fact of society, whether ancient or modern,” he said. “It grows out of social condition and is not to be contained without the most careful examination of its etiology… In that process, it would be well not to reject, out of hand as being out-dated, the principles and techniques laid down and applied by the ancients, for dealing with the problem in their times. They may have their uses, and certainly in eastern countries, they still possess validity.”

Cornelius was closely associated with the Lahore Gymkhana Cricket Club which played at Bagh-e-Jinnah. He was the main founding figure of Pakistan cricket after partition. Cornelius one of the three original vice-Presidents of the Pakistan Cricket Board (then B.C.C.P.) and became Chairman of the working committee, serving until he first relinquished his connection with the Board in early 1953. Cornelius was in September 1960 made Chairman of the first Ad Hoc Committee, created to run cricket in Pakistan until May 1963. Cornelius’s proudest achievement in cricket was to found the Pakistan Eaglets, an informal club of promising young Pakistani cricketers, which made tours of England in 1952 and 1953 in preparation for the first full Test tour of England in 1954.

Cornelius died at the age of 88 on 21 December 1991, in Lahore and was buried in the city’s Christian cemetery.

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