An Indian Bengali Jurist, Radhabinod Pal graduated from Presidency College, Kolkata and the Law College of the University of Kolkata. He went on to become one of the most prominent members of the United Nations’ International Law Commission dating from 1952 to 1966. During his stint as an important judicial authority, Pal took over many crucial trials including the Tokyo Trials conducted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East that centered on the atrocities and war crimes committed during World War II. His individualistic and assertive judgments and his conviction have led to a formidable reputation of Pal in the judicial domain. He single-handedly procured the verdict of the Tokyo Trials and also has the famous Yasukuni and Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku Shrine dedicated in his honour.
Early Life and Education
Radhabinod Pal was born in the small village of Salimpur in Kushtia District (now Bangladesh). Having graduated in Mathematics and Constitutional law at Presidency College, he further honed his legal prowess at the Law College of the University of Kolkata.
Radhabinod Pal was one of the key drafters of the Indian Income Tax Act of 1922. He was one of the builders of modern Indian law system. Working in close conjunction with British Government of India as a legal advisor since 1927, and simultaneously serving the Law College of University of Kolkata from 1923 to 1936, Radhabinod Pal eventually served the Kolkata High Court as a judge in the year 1941. He also worked as the Vice Chancellor of University of Kolkata in 1944.
In summation, Radhabinod Pal was one of India’s legal pioneers in the Pre Independence Era. It was his conviction and dedication towards justice and legal systems that has led to his formidable reputation in the legal and administrative domains.
One of the turning points in Radhabinod Pal’s career was when he was designated as one of the judges to decide the verdict of the Tokyo Trials in the year 1946. That was the time when Pal’s undisputed wisdom and unconventional way of delivering justice was noticed globally. While his objective method of decision making and analytical skills led to him dissenting against the tribunal’s decision which was in favour of the prosecution for Class A War Crimes, his adamancy did create a furore in the international relations sector.
While Pal openly dissented the decisions and rulings of the tribunal, unfortunately, the case verdict was delivered on the basis of majority votes by judges of all nations world over.
What further created a statement are Pal’s unbiased analysis of the case, and his understanding of the nulla poena sine lege concept for establishing the concept of class A war crimes, earlier applied in the Nuremberg trials used as ex post facto. His assertion and persistence towards impartial deliverance of justice is what caused Japanese nationalists and officials to revere him as an international figure.
Radhabinod Pal was one of the most impartial, learned and confident legal figures produced by India. He was not afraid to voice the right opinion despite receiving little or no support from his counterparts. While he openly exposed the spirit of retribution provoked by the Tokyo Trials, the verdict he made also highlighted the sham judgments and misuse of legal powers for revenge purposes. He however, did not fully absolve Japan of war crimes. But he acknowledged the Nanjing massacre and put it under the class B and class C war crime categories.
He was in fact one of the first Asians to openly point out the impact of colonialism and the highhandedness of the United States while they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki using the atom bomb leading the widespread destruction of life and property and a major breach of human rights. In fact, he also openly criticized the absence of judges from the defeated nations on the tribunal.
Pal and Indo-Japan Relations
Radhabinod Pal always had a liking for Japan which often led the American litigators to dismiss him as biased. He in fact visited Japan in 1966 and lauded the country for always standing up against the West. It was his sheer love for justice and fairness that led the Japanese to erect a monument in his honour at the Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku Shrine. During his visit to the country in the year 1966, Pal was conferred with the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure. In fact, following his demise, another monument at the Yasukuni Shrine was erected in his honour. This gesture has actually served as a foundation rock for the friendly Indo-Japanese relations over the past century.
Quotes by Radhabinod Pal
“Questions of law are not decided in an intellectual quarantine area in which legal doctrine and the local history of the dispute alone are retained and all else is forcibly excluded. We cannot afford to be ignorant of the world in which disputes arise.”
“When time shall have softened passion and prejudice, when Reason shall have stripped the mask from misrepresentation, then Justice, holding evenly her scales, will require much of past censure and praise to change places,”
Written By: Aishwarya Sharma