A brilliant legal mind (1935-2019)

N.R. Madhava Menon, the legal luminary was born on 4 May 1935 at Trivandrum to a law graduate father. He enrolled for his graduate studies at the SD College in Alappuzha and passed out with a BSc in Zoology. A keen interest in law saw him take up a course in law in the Government Law College in Trivandrum from where he completed his Bachelor of Law degree in 1955. He then apprenticed under a local advocate before appearing for the Civil Services Exams which he cleared and found placement in the Central Secretariat in New Delhi. The academically inclined Menon pursued his studies vigorously and completed a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science in 1960 securing a distinction in the examination. Thereafter he found employment as a Law Faculty in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) taking time off to do his post graduation in Law, LLM. An University Grants Commission (UGC) scholarship came his way and Menon also did his PhD. Later while serving as a Professor of Law in AMU he received a coveted Fullbright Scholarship from the University of Berkeley in California and this enabled him to present a paper on ‘Legal Aid’.

One of Madhava Menon’s most significant achievements in his long and eventful career in the field of Law was the setting up of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bangalore where he served as a Director for 12 years. NLSIU set up in 1987 was the first National Law University to be established in India and it was also one of the first to offer the five year integrated undergraduate Law degree course. This brainchild of Menon is recognised as one of the finest universities not just in the country but across the world as well. Menon was also instrumental in establishing the National Judicial Academy in Bhopal.  In 1998, at the instance of the West Bengal government he set up the West Bengal University of Judicial Sciences and served as its first Vice Chancellor. The Supreme Court of India appointed him as the Director of the National Judicial Academy, a training centre for judges and Menon held the post till his retirement in 2006.

The distinguished jurist was a member of several committees set up by the government and by autonomous bodies and prominent among these were the Law Commission of India, Committee on Legal Aid, Civil Services Exam Reform, Criminal Justice Reform, Policy Act Drafting Committee, Committee on Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice, Commission on Restructuring of Higher Education in India and Committee on Centre-State Relations.

Menon also distinguished himself in his role as the Secretary General of the All India Legal Teachers Association and was a member of the Committee for the Implementation of Legal Aid Schemes constituted under the Chairmanship of the Supreme Court Judge, the late V. R. Krishna Aiyar. He also served as the Secretary of the Bar Council of India. His legal acumen and expertise in law also stood him in good stead in his tenure as the Principal of the Government Law College in Puducherry and as Chairman of the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. Post retirement Menon also set up an NGO, Menon Institute of Legal Advocate Training (MLAT).

The advocate was also a prolific speaker and author of several books of which some were best sellers. His autobiography ‘The story of a Law Teacher : Turning Point’ provided a vivid insight into his career as a civil servant, lawyer and a legal educator. Several honours came his way including an Award from the International Bar Association hailing him as the Living Legend of Law and a Plaque of Honour from the Bar Council of India. The Central Government conferred on him the Padma Shri in 2003 and the Padma Bhushan in the field of Public Affairs posthumously in 2020.

Madhava Menon breathed his last in Trivandrum on the 6 May 2019 at the age of 84 after battling liver cancer. His passing left the country bereft of a leading light in the field of law who strode across the legal firmament like a colossus.

C.V. Aravind

C.V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.