10 LANDMARK CASES DEFENDED BY LATE SH. RAM JETHMALANI
Updated: Jun 23
Published by: Aayushi Devpura
Special Student Columnist
THE JOURNEY OF LATE SHRI RAM JETHMALANI
Late Sh. Ram Jethmalani, a well-known jurist and politician, was born in Shikarpur, Pakistan on 14 September 1923. He came to India in 1948 when riots broke out in Karachi, soon after the partition. During school, Sh. Jethmalani’s intellect earned him a double promotion and he completed his Matriculation at the tender age of 13 years. He was merely 17 years old when he became a Graduate of Law and obtained his LLB degree from Bombay University. At that time, the minimum age to practice Law was 21 years but there was no stopping this young and bright rebel. Not only did he contest this Rule of Minimum Age for Practice in Court, but also won and an exception was made for him to practice law at the age of 18 years.
This young lawyer came into spotlight for the first time during the Nanavati case in 1959 and thus, began the journey of one of the most prominent lawyers India has ever seen. As one of India’s most famous defense lawyers, Sh. Ram Jethmalani handled some of the most high profile and controversial cases in the country. He defended the assassins of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, L.K Advani in Hawala scam case in 1990’s, Lalu Prasad in fodder scam case, Kanimozhi in 2G scam case, Amit Shah in Sohrabuddin encounter case in 2006, Manu Sharma in the Jessica Lall case in 1999, Arvind Kejriwal in defamation case filed by Arun Jaitley in 2017.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani was not only an eminent criminal lawyer but a notable politician. He was a Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha for six terms and the Chairman of Bar Council of India for four terms. As a Rajya Sabha member from the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), he never shied away from criticizing the party leadership. Controversies never scared him. On one occasion, he openly Accused the party of being “silent against high corruption”. This led to him being expelled from the primary membership of the party for six years for ‘breach of discipline’ in 2013.
During his political career, Sh. Ram Jethmalani served as the Law Minister of India and the Minister of Urban Development under the Vajpayee Government. Due to his experience as a post-partition refugee, Sh. Jethmalani worked to improve relations between India and Pakistan throughout his career. Always a proponent of creating legal awareness, he himself taught law, and served as The Sunday Guardian’s President, the weekly newspaper. He also authored books such as Justice: Soviet-Style, Big Egos Small Men and Conscience of a Maverick and Maverick: Unchanged, Unrepentant.
On 8th September, 2019, the nation lost one of its most distinguished gems when Sh. Ram Jethmalani passed away in his home at New Delhi at the age of 96 years.
In his memory, let’s take a look at some of the most high profile and controversial cases defended by Late Sh. Ram Jethmalani:
1. NANAVATI CASE:
A naval officer, Kawas Nanavati, shot his wife Sylvia’s lover, Prem Ahuja, after discovering that he did not intend to marry her or accept her children as his own. The case was one of the first to be brought before press and was the last case to be tried and decided by a Jury.
At that time, Sh. Ram Jethmalani was not the maverick he would finally be recognized as. As per his own admission, He came to the fore when he appeared for trial in the renowned case of KM Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra in 1959. Sh. Ram Jethmalani was not directly engaged in the case, he helped in framing the case with the Public Prosecutor, Sh. C M Trivedi and later Sh. Y V Chandrachud, the Public Pleader of the Hon’ble High Court at Bombay.
The jury acquitted Nanavati, but later Nanavati was convicted of life imprisonment by Hon’ble High Court. The Hon’ble High Court held that the conduct of the Accused clearly shows that the murder was a deliberate and calculated one as the Accused went to his office first, took his gun and then went to meet the deceased and the facts of the case do not attract the provisions of Exception 1 of Sec 300 of IPC as the Accused also failed to bring the case under General Exception of IPC by adducing evidence. Therefore, the Accused was convicted under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code. On 24 November 1961, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India upheld the conviction.
2. INDIRA GANDHI ASSASINATION CASE
Satwant Singh and Beant Singh shot the then Prime Minister of India, Smt. Indira Gandhi, dead on October 31, 1984 as she went through the garden between her home and an office in the same housing compound along a stone road. Sh. Jethmalani served as the Senior Counsel for Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, who were tried for conspiracy in the plot of the Indira Gandhi Assassination case and convicted for the assassination.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination was believed to be an ‘Open and Shut’ case. But, thanks to Ram Jethmalani, it turned out to be something more. He was engaged in the case after the Accused conspirators asked him to represent them. When the two Convicts were executed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, Sh. Jethmalani was suggested to have succeeded in saving Satwant and Kehar. They were directed to be hanged until death in January, 1989.
Sh. Jethmalani was targeted for his role in defending the assassins, but avoided his public criticism of his case by saying that he was merely fulfilling his legal duty as a lawyer. He said, ‘I decided by my conscience who to protect. A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the basis that individuals believe he is guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct.’
3. RAJIV GANDHI ASSASINATION CASE
On May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, about 50 km from Chennai, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by belt-bomb assassin Dhanu, who belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a few minutes before addressing an election meeting. To crack the case, a special investigation team (SIT) of the CBI was formed. The SIT submitted the charge-sheet on May 20, 1992 before the Designated Court in Poonamallee, near Chennai, after a meticulous inquiry. The charge-sheet named the 41 people as Accused and stated that LTTE was behind the Assassination.
The Apex Court held that Santhan, Muruguan and Perarivalan were guilty for the Assassination and granted Capital sentence to them. Sh. Jethmalani appeared before the Hon’ble Supreme Court for the convicts, seeking to commute their death penalty. In February 2014, the Hon’ble Supreme Court commuted the capital sentence of Santhan, Muruguan and Perarivalan to life imprisonment, accepting the argument that a long delay in executing the death sentence is a reason to commute it.
The delay was not only excessive, but also irrational and unexplained, according to this landmark judgment passed the Apex Court Bench consisting of Hon’ble Chief Justice P. Sathasivam. The Hon’ble Court clarified in its Judgment that Life Imprisonment in prison would mean up to the end of life.
4. THE EMERGENCY STAND OFF
On the night of June 25, 1975, the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared National Emergency. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was enacted by the government to allow arbitrary arrests in its attempt to exercise full control. Without explanation or legal remedy, hundreds of political activists and journalists were either jailed or put under house arrest.
A group of 12 lawyers led by Shanti Bhusan challenged the unlawful detentions before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. This is famously known as ‘the Habeas Corpus case’. Sh. Jethmalani was one of the lawyers who argued before the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the fundamental rights, such as the right to life had been abrogated during the Emergency. In a spectacular judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme Court supported the Centre, with only one of five judges disputing the majority judgment.
5. 2G SPECTRUM CASE
The ‘2G Spectrum case’ was one of independent India’s largest scam in history. The CAG (India’s Comptroller and Auditor General) had granted 2G licenses to telecom operators at throwback rate, resulting in losses of Rs 1.76 Lakh Crore (approx.), and to ineligible applicants.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani appeared for Kanimozhi, daughter of the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunidhi, who in the ‘2G Spectrum case’ had allegedly paid a Rs. 214 Crore bribe. The CBI claimed that Kanimozhi was behind the channel’s active brain. Sh. Jethmalani argued that Kanimozhi had not played any such role and was being targeted as she was Karunidhi’s daughter.
On 21 December, 2017, the New Delhi Special Court acquitted all the Accused persons in the ‘2G Spectrum case’ since the CBI had failed to find evidence against them in 7 years. This famous verdict was delivered seven years after the first charge sheet was filed by the CBI.
6. STOCK MARKET SCAM
In the case of BSE Security Scam, Sh. Ram Jethmalani defended Harshad Mehta. Mehta was charged with manipulating the 1992 Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) rise along with his associates. Being a part of the banking system, they took advantage of several loopholes and drained funds from inter-bank transactions. He manipulated ACC and Hindalco’s share prices through forged forms of share transfer.
Mehta’s modus operandi exposure led banks to start demanding their money back, causing Sensex to plunge as it had risen almost dramatically. Mehta was later charged with 72 crimes while he was charged with more than 600 civil action Suits.
In a financial scandal valued at Rs 4,999 Crores (approx.) on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) by the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, Mehta was convicted and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a fine Rs 25,000/-. The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld Mehta’s conviction and voiced concern about the country’s growing number of scams. Mehta died waiting for his conviction to be heard.
7. JESSICA LALL CASE
Manu Sharma shot dead model Jessica Lall on April 29, 1999 during a party, after the 34-year-old refused to serve him liquor at the Tamarind Court restaurant owned by socialite Bina Ramani at Qutub Colnnade in Mehrauli, South Delhi. When Jessica was hurried to Apollo Hospital, she was declared dead by doctors.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani appeared on behalf of Manu Sharma who was accused of killing Jessica Lall. Sharma was acquitted in 2006 by the Trial Court. However, after a sting operation revealed that witnesses were pressured to become hostile, the Hon’ble High Court ordered a retrial of the case and Sharma was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2010, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court awarded Sharma a life sentence which was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
Sh. Jethmalani defended Sharma in the midst of public outrage before the Hon’ble High Court and Hon’ble Supreme Court, but Jethmalani was determined to hold the Brief and slammed the press criticism shut. Sh. Jethmalani justified his appearance in the case by stating that protecting an individual from a vicious press attack was his legal duty.
8. L K ADVANI HAWALA SCAM CASE
The Hawala Scam was an Indian political and financial scandal that allegedly included payments from politicians through Hawala brokers, namely the Jain Brothers. The political figures accused in the Hawala Scam were L.K. Advani, V.C. Shukla, Shiv Shankar, Yadav Sharad, Jakhar Balram and Khurana Madan.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani represented BJP’s Senior Leader Sh. L.K. Advani in the early 1990s. His name was cleared in 1998 and he was acquitted on the ground that all records collected on scam were insufficient and guilt was not conclusive. The Hon’ble Supreme Court also held that “no democracy can function when allegations are made against constitutional officials without cogent evidence.”
9. PARLIAMENT ATTACK CASE
The attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December, 2001 was a terrorist attack by two terrorist organizations based in Pakistan. The attack led to extensive investigation revealing involvement of four Accused persons, namely Mohd Afzal Guru, Shaukat Hussain Guru, S.A.R Gilani and Afsan Guru. Mohd Afzal Guru has been tried and sentenced to death.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani had argued for Md. Afzal Guru, a convict in the 2001 Parliament Attack case, calling for hid Capital Punishment to be commuted. Afzal Guru’s Mercy Petition was rejected on 3rd February, 2013 and he was hanged on 9th February, 2013 at Tihar Jail, Delhi.
Sh. Jethmalani accused the Government of not allowing Afzal Guru to get a lawyer of his choice which resulted in Guru not getting a fair trial.
10. JAYALALITHAA ASSET DISPROPORTIONATE CASE
Jayalalithaa was a five-time Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu. She was accused of misusing her Office during her first tenure as Chief Minister, i.e., during 1991-96 to amass properties worth Rs. 66.65 Crore and depositing the amount in her proxy accounts.
On September 27, 2014, the Special Court passed its Judgment convicting all the Accused persons including Jayalalithaa. Jayalalithaa was sentenced to four years simple imprisonment and fined Rs. 100 crore.
Arguing for Jayalalithaa, Sh. Ram Jethmalani pleaded for suspension under Section 389 of Criminal Procedural Code, to press for bail. On 14 February 2017, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India abated the case against Jayalalithaa since she had passed away but fines were levied on her properties.
Sh. Ram Jethmalani’s persona was remarkable. He always spoke in favor of justice even in cases where he did not appear. For every lawyer and every person who wants to achieve something in life, he is an inspiration and an example worth following. Sh. Jethmalani gave young lawyers the much needed encouragement. He often stressed the need for a 100% dedication to work to pursue justice. He was a man of words, an extraordinary lawyer who always pulled punches and never struggle with speaking with utmost vigor for his clients. Sh. Jethmalani was a very transparent-minded person and did not mince words before the Judiciary. The eminent lawyer defended people from all walks of life. There are not enough words to express his invaluable contribution to this nation, both as a lawyer and politician leader.