Educated in law and trained as a jurist from the United Kingdom, he earned notability and international fame when he chaired the War Enquiry Commission to investigate the responsibility causes of the war with India that led the liberation of East Pakistan and provide insightful recommendations to prevent future armed foreign intervention. In addition, Rehman served as a law professor in the faculty of Karachi University and vice-chancellor of University of Dhaka while remaining active in promoting literacy across the country. After the independence of Bangladesh, Rehman's family retained Pakistan's citizenship and his son served as the Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court.
Chief Justice Rahman remained a very respected in Pakistan's judiciary, and is hailed for his honesty and patriotism that Senior Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday once publicly noted that "his Commission was the most honorable commission that was investigated by a Bengali Chief Justice, in spite of East-Pakistan disaster."
Hamoodur Rahman was born in Patna, Bihar, British India on 1 November 1910. Despite being born in Bihar, Rahman hailed from a Bengali Muslim family. Hamoodur Rahman's family practised law before the Partition of India— his brother, Maudoodur Rahman, was also a barrister who ascended as a Judge of Calcutta High Court. Their father, Ahraf Ali was a barrister who was an practising advocate in the Calcutta High Court. Ashraf Ali later participated in general elections held in 1930 and was a member of East Bengal Legislative Assembly. Ali later served as deputy speaker of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly before the Partition of India.
Hamoodur Rahman was educated in Calcutta and entered in the St. Xavier's College of the University of Calcutta where he secured his graduation in BA. He went to the Great Britain to attend the University of London where he graduated with the LLB degree and resume his studies in Gray's Inn, London, and was called to the Bar in London in 1937.
Upon arriving to British India, Rehman began practising law at the Calcutta High Court in 1938 and served as the legal councillor of the Calcutta Corporation in 1940. In 1943, he also presented Mayor of Calcutta as its legal councillor, and was a member of the Junior Standing Counsel of the East Bengal from 1943 to 1947. After the independence of Pakistan, he opted for East Pakistan and settled in Dhaka in 1948. He was appointed Advocate-General of East Pakistan in 1953 and held it till 1954 when he was appointed to the bench as a judge of the Dhaka High Court by the Governor of East Pakistan.
His son Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rahman is currently now the Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. In 2007, his son refused to take an oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order issued by President Pervez Musharraf who imposed the Emergency in November 2007. After his restoration in 2009, he resumed hearing cases at the Lahore High Court and eventually ascended as Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court in 2013.
Justice Hamoodur Rahman served as a judge of the Dhaka High Court from 1954 until 1960 when he was appointed as Senior Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan by the President of Pakistan. In addition, Rahman served as the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University from 11 May 1958 until 14 December 1960 while serving as visiting professor of law at the Karachi University.
During his career as Senior Justice at the Supreme Court, Rehman held various dignified positions and engaged himself in promoting the literacy across the country. From 1959 to 1960, he was a member of International Court of Arbitration that is based in the Hague, Netherlands. In 1964, Rehman, upon requested by the Ministry of Education (MoEd), led the "Commission on Students Problems and Welfare" as its chairman where he authored the report and submitted the case study recommendations to the Government of Pakistan in 1966. In 1967, he was the member of the "Law Reforms Commission" that conducted the various case studies on land reforms in Pakistan on behalf of Ministry of Law (MoL)– its report was submitted in 1970 to the President of Pakistan.
In 1968, Senior Justice Hamoodur Rehman was nominated as Chief Justice by outgoing Chief Justice Alvin Robert Cornelius; his appointment as Chief Justice was approved by President Ayub Khan. His tenure witnessed the resignation of President Ayub Khan who invited Yahya Khan to take over the country through enforcing the martial law in 1969. He heard the petition filed by Asma Jillani against Yahya Khan's takeover in case known as "Asma Jillani vs. Government of the Punjab". Upon hearing the case, Hamoodur Rahman court retroactively invalidated the martial law that suspended the Constitution and notably ruled that Yahya Khan's assumption of power was "illegal usurpation". The Supreme Court also over-ruled and overturned its convictions that called for validation of martial law in 1958.
Chief Justice Hamoodur Rehman carefully distinguish the meaning of martial law in terms of controlling the internal disorder and imposing the martial law in alien territory. His stance stood firm against Yahya Khan's martial law but condone such actions by the application of doctrine of necessity. In 1970, he supported the Election Commission of Pakistan to held the general elections held in 1970 across the country.
Hamoodur Rahman, as many Bengalis in residing in Pakistan, remained loyal to Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War and the war with India in 1971. He did not supported the independence of Bangladesh and remained quiet throughout the events. He administrated the oath of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as President of Pakistan on 22 April 1971 at the Supreme Court building.
In 1972–73, he went onto work with the United Nation and was a member of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Chief Justice Justice Hamoodur Rahman retired with state honours in 1975 and administrated the oath to appoint Senior Justice Muhammad Yaqub Ali as Chief Justice.
In 1974, he was the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) until retiring in 1977.
In 1971, President Zulfikar Bhutto constituted a commission to investigate the responsibility causes of the war with India that led the liberation of East Pakistan and to provide insightful recommendations to prevent future armed foreign intervention. The commission, known as War Enquiry Commission (or otherwise known as Hamoodur Rahman Commission), was led by Chief Justice Hamoodur Rehman as its chairman and consisted of both civilian and military members.
Initially, Chief Justice Rahman was tasked to investigate the causes and the break-up of Pakistan, and role of the Pakistan Armed Forces in the national politics. His report revealed many aspects of politics in Pakistan Armed Forces during the East-Pakistan war. Because of the nature of the findings, it was not declassified for decades until an Indian newspapers, later Pakistani newspapers, published the details.
From 1971 until 1975, the Commission led by Rahman conducted several interviews of Pakistan military's senior officers, bureaucrats, politicians, activists, and the Bengali nationalists. Criticism on the government and misconduct of civilian politicians were very heavy and intense, therefore, the Report was never made it public in Pakistan and concealed all of its information as the report was marked as "Top secret".
The report explores a number of issues such as, killing of thousands of East Pakistanis—both civilians and "Bengali" soldiers—rape, pan smuggling, looting of banks in East Pakistan, drunkenness by military officers, even an instance of a one star rank officer "entertaining" women while their troops were being shelled by Indian troops. The Report recommended a string of courts-martial and military trials against the top senior military officers including the PAF's Air Marshal Enamul Haq (the AOC of Eastern Air Command of Pakistan Air Force), Vice-Admiral Mohammad Shariff( Fleet Commander of the Eastern Naval Command of Pakistan Navy), and Lieutenant-General Tikka Khan (the GOC of Eastern Army Command of Pakistan Army), and former generals such as Amir Khan Niazi and Rao Farman Ali.
Despite recommending field courts-martial by the Commission, there were no actions taken by Prime Minister Bhutto or the successive governments. Nearly 300 individuals were interviewed and hundreds of classified armed forces military signals were examined, with the final comprehensive Report was submitted on 23 October 1974 by Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman who submitted the report to Prime minister Secretariat.
Originally, the Commission was to overlook the military failure to prevent the break–up of Eastern Pakistan but Chief Justice Rahman went into great depths in the roots of matter since the independence of Pakistan in 1947. A separate chapter on the political history of Pakistan was very detailed oriented and written by Chief Justice Rahman who critically opined on the political role of Zulfikar Bhutto. Rahman critically opined on Bhutto and, with some degree, implicated Bhutto of manipulating President Yahya Khan to take the military action as a solution.
He took special interests in underlining the Urdu phrase: تم إدهر, هم أدهر (lit English: You are there; We are here), and noted that President Yahya Khan failed to not come to political settlement laying the foundation of two separate states: West and East Pakistan. Though the responsibility of the debacle lay on the shoulders of the people in power then as was recommended in the report by Chief Justice Rahman.
When the report was submitted the then Prime Minister Bhutto, the Prime minister wrote to the chairman War Enquiry Commission Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman, that the commission has exceeded its limits. The Commission was appointed to look into the military "aspect of debacle", not the aspect of political failure; therefore, Bhutto classified the publications of the Commission and marked its report as "Top Secret".
In 1974, the final Report was submitted but both Bhutto and President Zia-ul-Haq claimed that the report was lost and was nowhere to be located in the National Archives of Pakistan.
In the 1990s, it was revealed through investigative journalism by News International that the Report was suppressed and was held secretly at the Joint staff HQ in Rawalpindi. In 2000, portion of the Report was leaked equally by the India Today and the Dawn. However, the India Today wilfully suppressed its own publications as if the surrender was its own scandal.
Hamoodur Rahman lived a very quiet life in Islamabad and remained active in the Supreme Court's library to publish judicial supplements. He died in Islamabad due to a cardiac arrest on 20 December 1981. He was buried in Islamabad with close judicial associates and friends attending his funeral.
Chief Justice Rahman remained a very respected in Pakistan's judiciary even after his death, and is hailed for his honesty and patriotism that Senior Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday once publicly noted that "his Commission was the most honorable commission that was investigated by a Bengali Chief Justice, in spite of East-Pakistan disaster", in 2010.