In Memoriam: RKP Shankardass - IBA President 1987–1988

RKP Shankardass, 1930–2017

IBA President 1987–1988

The many warm tributes to Kumar Shankardass from former colleagues around the world leave no doubt as to the high regard in which he was held or his enormous contribution to the IBA. He is remembered fondly as a lawyer of immense intelligence with a great sense of humour. President from 1987 to 1988, Shankardass was the first IBA President from outside Europe and North America.

Born in June 1930 in Nairobi, Kenya and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, Shankardass became a leader of the legal profession in India, a jurisdiction where he had practised since the 1950s.

In the early 1980s Shankardass served as IBA Assistant Secretary-General. It was during this time that he played an important role in staging the 19th IBA Biennial Conference. Former IBA Executive Director, Madeleine May states it was ‘his initiative and tenacity – his considerable powers as an advocate – that persuaded a hesitant IBA Council to hold the 1982 IBA Conference in New Delhi… Despite political problems, [the conference] was a great success with its never to be forgotten opening party with elephants, dancing monkeys, a bear, snake charmers, acrobats, dancers and jugglers.’

Shankardass was IBA President at the time of the Association’s Biennial Conference in Buenos Aires. Francis Neate recalls that, only six years after the Falklands War, organising the event must have tested him and the other officers, ‘I can only guess at the skill  and tact required  to carry it off. Certainly, Kumar was just the right person for the task. It was an extremely successful conference’ remembers Neate, IBA President 2005–2006. ‘These conferences were so much smaller than today’s and helped to generate lasting friendships across continents. It was people like Kumar and [his wife] Ramma who contributed so much to this and the resulting success of both the Section on Business Law and the IBA.’ 

‘‘Kumar showcased the Indian legal profession to the world through the IBA and introduced the IBA to India and India to the IBA.’’

Lalit Bhasin
President Bar Association of India
President Society of Indian Law Firms

Keith Baker, an honorary life member of the IBA recalls: ‘He had a very quiet manner and always put his point across with clarity, firmness and total politeness. This was a person who commanded your respect.’

Alastair Cameron (Lord Abernethy) whose first IBA conference was the 1988 Biennial, recalls: ‘He plainly had a first class brain and at meetings, he was somebody that people listened to. Kindness and courtesy were second nature to him. He also had a good sense of humour and a very ready smile… in every sense a true gentleman.’

Shankardass was a Senior Advocate Supreme Court of India. It was there that IBA Senior Legal Adviser Anurag Bana first met him at his lawyer’s chamber in 2014 to discuss the Bar Association of India’s interest in participating in IBA’s cross-bars Programme for Excellence. ‘The Apex court of the country is always buzzing’, says Bana. ‘There is a constant flow of people – lawyers, appellants, onlookers. But as soon as I entered Mr Shankardass’s Chamber, I was transported into an oasis of calm.

In 2016 Shankardass stepped down as President of the Bar Association of India (BAI). His successor, Lalit Bhasin, an IBA honorary life member says: ‘Kumar showcased the Indian legal profession to the world through the IBA and introduced the IBA to India and India to the IBA. Kumar and I worked as a team for nearly 20 years both in the BAI and the IBA. The biggest ever conference of the IBA (all the three Sections – Section on Business Law, Section on General Practice and Section on Energy Law) was held in 1997 in New Delhi attended by nearly 3,000 IBA members from all over the world. Kumar was the Chair of the Organising Committee. It was one of the most successful events in the history of the IBA in this part of the world.’

Bana last saw Shankardass shortly before he died. ‘We met at an evening reception on 3 March at New Delhi, hosted by one of the leading law firms. He was in fine spirits, which he attributed to a semi-retired lifestyle. However, he was still updated with IBA happenings, and was looking forward to being in Belfast for the May 2017 IBA mid-year meetings.’

IBA President Martin Šolc paid this tribute: ‘As a past President of the IBA, Mr Shankardass was a highly valued and respected Honorary Life Member and his dedication and service to the organisation will not be forgotten. He donated his time and expertise as he rose in the leadership to become the President and remained actively involved in the IBA Council. Mr Shankardass was a remarkable man and we are better for having known him.’