His father was also an advocate and therefore soon after his graduation he joined his father's Chambers in the year 1955. He started his independent practice from the High Court of Punjab and Chandigarh in the year 1958.He mostly took up matters of the nature of criminal, revenue,land tenure and writs. During his practice he also worked as a part-time lecturer in the law department of Punjab University.
He was appointed as the Additional Judge of Punjab and Haryana High Court in the year 1979 and then later on he was made permanent judge of the same court in the 1982. After this, he was elevated as the judge of Supreme Court in the year 1989. And finally, in 1998, he was designated as the Chief Justice of India. He retired on 9th October 1998.
He was the only dissenting judge in the second judges case that established the collegium system. He stated in his judgement that the Chief Justice of India should have primacy in judicial appointment and not the collegium. He was also the head of the commission on Centre-State relations which was constituted in 2007 by the Government of India to look into new issues pertaining to Centre-State relations.
He was one of the most fearless judges of histime who seriously exercise his powers and duties as the judge of Supreme Court. He was handed the criminal roster of Supreme Court cases. While serving in this capacity, his life was threatened twice in 1985 and 1986 through attempts was made to end his life.However, he remained unshaken and continued working relentlessly.
He was considered as a generous and patient judge who encouraged young lawyers. Justice Punchhi was a Task-Master as he tried to dispose off as many cases as possible and prevent the piling up of cases.
He died at the age of 82 after suffering a cardiac arrest in the year 2015.