Justice Hidayatullah was born on 17th December 1905 at Betul in the erstwhile Central Provinces and Berar. He was educated at the Government High School, Raipur and Morris College, Nagpur. He went to England for further studies at the Trinity College, Cambridge and obtained B.A. and M.A. Degrees from there. He was called to the Bar from Lincoln's Inn in 1930 when he was just 25 years old.
On his return to India, he was enrolled as Advocate of the High Court of Central Provinces and Berar at Nagpur on 19th July 1930. On 2nd August 1943, he became the Advocate General of Central Provinces and Berar and continued to hold the said post till he was appointed as Additional Judge of that High Court on 24th June 1946. He was appointed as Permanent Judge of the said High Court on 13th September 1946. On 3rd December 1954, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court. On 1st December 1958, he was elevated to the Supreme Court and became the Chief Justice of India on 25th February 1968. He retired from that high office on 17th December 1970. In his time, he was the youngest Advocate General, the youngest Chief Justice of a High Court and the youngest Judge of the Supreme Court of India.
Justice Hidayatullah was sworn in as the Acting President of India on 20th July 1969 and served in that capacity till late V.V. Giri was sworn in as the duly elected President of the Republic. After his retirement as the Chief Justice of India, he was unanimously elected as the Vice President of India as a result of a consensus amongst different political parties and occupied that high office with distinction from 1979 to 1984. As Vice President, he presided over the Rajya Sabha and conducted its proceedings with great dexterity and wisdom. During his tenure as Vice President, he again acted as the President in 1982.