Eminent lawyer and politician Ram Jethmalani has passed away at age of 95. He would have turned 96 next week.
As a lawyer
Born on September 14, 1923, Jethmalani obtained LL.B.degree at the age of 17 and started practising law in his hometown Shikarpur (now in Pakistan). At that time, the minimum age for becoming a lawyer was 21, but a special exception (resulting from an application that he made to the court contesting the rule regarding minimum age) allowed him to become a lawyer at 18. He started his own law firm in Karachi with his friend A.K. Brohi. In February 1948, when riots broke out in Karachi, he fled to India on the advice of his friend Brohi and when he came to India in that day he had only a one paisa coin in his pocket and with that note he stayed in the refugee camp in Mumbai for few days.
Jethmalani fought his very first case at the age of 17 in the court of Sindh, contesting the rule regarding minimum age passed by the bar council of Sindh. His very first case fought in India as a refugee led to quashing of a new law (Bombay refugees act) that had just been passed by the then chief minister Morarji Desai. The law treated refugees badly and in an inhumane manner similar to convicted prisoners, allowing the state to relocate, sequester and question them anytime. Jethmalani filed a case against this at the Bombay high court, asking the law to be declared unconstitutional and won it. He later came to the spot light a decade later with his appearance in the K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra case in 1959 with Yeshwant Vishnu Chandrachud, later to become Chief Justice of India.
In 1954, he became a part-time Professor at the Government Law College, Mumbai for both graduate and post graduate studies. He also taught Comparative law at International Law at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He has also been the Chairman of Bar Council of India for four tenures both before and after the emergency. He was also a member of International Bar Association 1996. He has also been Professor Emeritus at Symbiosis Law School, Pune since 2003.
When in the late 1960’s, Jethmalani defended a string of smugglers, he gained an image as a ‘smuggler’s lawyer’. Unfazed by the criticism, Jethmalani maintained that he was only doing his duty as a lawyer.
He announced his retirement from the legal profession in September, 2017.
He has received prestigious awards like International Jurist Award, World Peace Through Law Award and Human Rights Award instituted by World Peace Through Law.
As a Politician
Jethmalani became a member of Rajya Sabha in 1988. He became The Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs in 1996 in the Government of India led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During the second tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he was given the portfolio of Union Minister of Urban Affairs and Employment in 1998. But on 13 October 1999 he was again sworn in as the Union Minister for Law, Justice and Company Affairs. However he was asked to resign by the prime minister following differences with the then Chief Justice of India Adarsh Sein Anand and Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee.
He had also announced his candidature for President of India stating “I owe it to the nation to offer my services” and launched his own political fronts, the Bharat Mukti Morcha, launched as a ‘mass movement’ in 1987 and in 1995 he launched his own political party called Pavitra Hindustan Kazhagam, with a motto to achieve “Transparency in functioning of Indian Democracy”.
In 2012, Jethmalani wrote to then Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari, accusing opposition BJP leaders of being “silent against the huge corruption” within the ruling UPA-II government, and stated that BJP “is sick”. Jethmalani’s letter became public on the Internet, and in May 2013, BJP expelled Jethmalani from the party for six years, for having made anti-party statements. In October 2013, defamation charges were framed against BJP seeking ?50 lakh as “null and void and damages” for making a statement that he was not a fit person to be member of the party.
Exile in Canada
During the emergency period of 1975–1977, Jethmalani was the chairman of the Bar Association of India. He heavily criticised the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. An arrest warrant was issued against him from Kerala. It was stayed by the Bombay High Court when over 300 lawyers led by Nani Palkhivala appeared for him. However the stay was nullified by the habeas corpus judgment Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla and Ram Jethmalani exiled himself in Canada carrying on his campaign against the emergency. He returned 10 months later after the emergency was lifted.
Defence of High-Profile case
He has several high-profile defence cases to his credit as a lawyer. Some of them are listed below:
- Defence of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers in Madras High Court in 2011
- Defended Indira Gandhi’s killers, and challenged the medical evidence (PMR) given by T D Dogra on Indira Gandhi.
- Harshad Mehta ans Ketan Mehta’s defence in stock market scam
- Underworld don Haji Mastan
- L K Advani’s defence in Hawala scandal
- Manu Sharma’s defence in Jessica Lall murder case
- Amit Shah’s defence in Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.
- Amit Jogi’s defence in the case of Jaggi murder
- Sanjay Chandra bail in Supreme Court in 2G case
- Kulbhushan Parashar Bail in Navy War Room leak case
- Kanimozhi’s defence in 2G spectrum case
- S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s special leave petition on stay for CBI probe on money laundering in his companies
- Yeddyurappa’s case on illegal mining scam
- Perarivalan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and Sriharan alias Murugan – convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
- Baba Ramdev’s defence on use of force on the followers of Baba Ramdev at Ramlila grounds on 4 June 2011
- Shiv Sena’s defence in CPI MLA Krishna Desai murder case
- Asaram Bapu’s defence in Jodhpur sexual assault case
- Lalu Prasad Yadav’s defence in The Supreme Court of India bail was convicted in the fodder scam case on 13 December 2013.
- Subrata Roy in Sahara-SEBI case
- AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa, who had been convicted in the disproportionate assets case, in the Karnataka High Court
- Arvind Kejriwal in defamation case filed by Arun Jaitley