Ram Jethmalani: A look at his most famous cases
Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s most famous lawyers, was known to take up high profile criminal cases. The 95-year-old died in Delhi Sunday morning.
Jethmalani who obtained his law degree from Sind University (now in Pakistan) when he was only 17, had to apply for special permission to practice before the stipulated age of 21.
It was his appearance in the famous Nanavati case in 1959 with YV Chandrachud who later became India’s chief justice that first brought Jethmalani into the spotlight. Chandrachud and Jethmalani appeared for the prosecution in the case where a Navy Commander Kawas Nanavati had shot his wife’s lover, Prem Ahuja in cold blood.
By the end of 1960s, he was the lawyer for many smugglers in the late 1960s but he pointed out that he was only doing his duty as a lawyer.
In the mid-1970s, Jethmalani left India to evade arrest during the Emergency years because he believed he could be of greater use outside the country. In 1977 he returned and fought the general elections where he defeated law minister HR Gokhale.
Jethmalani was often seen as a crusader for lost causes: from Balbir and Kehar Singh, assassins of Indira Gandhi, to underworld don Haji Mastan, stock scamster Harshad Mehta, conspirators in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and Jessica Lal’s murderer Manu Sharma (in 2006).
But not every case was a lost cause. Along with advocate Kamini Jaiswal, Jethmalini successfully defended former Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, who was a suspect in the 2001 Parliament attacks by the Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Jaiswal said she was ‘very disturbed’ by Jethmalini’s decision to defend Manu Sharma.
“He has publicly said he has retired and will appear only in matters where the larger national interest is involved. This is not a larger issue,” she had said.
But an unfazed Jethmalani’s conscience was clear. “If taking up an unpopular cause will result unpopularity, so be it.”
He went on to tell CNN-IBN in an interview, “I decide according to my conscience who to defend. A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the ground that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.”
He also defended former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa in a corruption case. Jayalalithaa was one of the last in a long list of controversial clients, but he had insisted that he was constrained by law to take briefs when they approached him.
“It’s a basic principal of law that everyone, no matter who, deserves a defence.”
On charging exorbitant fees, he once told HT, “Yes, I am charging Jayalalithaa. But I fight many cases pro bono. All in all, I make money from 10% of my clients.”
Ram Jethmalani also represented Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in the civil and criminal defamation suits filed by the late Arun Jaitley in 2015 where the former Union minister had sought Rs 10 crores in damages. Kejriwal went on to lose the case and apologized but Jaitley did not press for the payment.