The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law

A distinguished South African Judge, Albie Sachs has spoken of the importance of understanding the value of constitutional transformation. In his book titled ‘The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law’, explaining the role of the constitutional court, Sachs has this to say:

It is difficult to analyze the impact that court decisions have on actual historical events. It may well be that the publicity given to the case, and the evidence and arguments presented had more impact on public life than did the actual decision.”

In India, no less than in South Africa it is important to realize that citizens live in a constitutional democracy in which every exercise of power is subject to constitutional control. Every institution of the State is subject to the Constitution. None lies above it. The most important feature of Sachs’ vision relevant to our Constitution is that Indian society must move from the culture of authority and submission to the law, to one of justification and rights under the law.

Hon’ble Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Kalpana Mehta v. Union of India, [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 558 of 2012].

In Mozambique in 1988, Albie Sachs was nearly killed by a car bomb. The anti-apartheid campaigner lost his right arm and was blinded in his left eye. Ever since, he says, life has been like a fable. “Until then I was just another one of thousands of people in exile who had been in the struggle. The bomb for me introduced the element of madness [you find] in fable”.

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