10 High Profile Cases Handled By Ram Jethmalani
Senior Advocate Ram Jethmalani, widely regarded as the doyen of criminal law, passed away at the age of 95 yesterday morning.
Known as a courageous and erudite lawyer, Jethmalani has appeared in several high profile cases.
Here is a brief account of some of them.
1. Nanavati Case
Jethmalani, who shifted his legal practice from Karachi to Bombay after partition, shot to limelight with his appearance in the Nanavati case.
In that case, K M Nanavati, a Naval Commander, was tried for the charge of murdering Prem Ahuja, his wife's lover. The case attracted much media attention then, with public sympathy titled towards Nanavati.
Jethmalani was hired by Prem Ahuja's sister to lead the legal team to help with the prosecution strategy. The case was tried before a jury, which ultimately went on to acquit Nanavati.
The sessions judge felt that the jury verdict was influenced by public sentiments and referred it to High Court. The Bombay High Court reversed the verdict and held Nanavati guilty of murder. Y V Chandrachud, who later went on to become the Chief Justice of India, was the public prosecutor in the case. Jury trials were abolished after this case.
2. Challenging detentions during emergency
Jethmalani was a fierce critic of the Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi-led government in 1975. For speaking against the Emergency at a function organized by lawyers in Palghat district in Kerala, an arrest warrant was issued against him. But he managed to dodge arrest.
He teamed up with Advocates Shanti Bhushan, Anil Divan etc., to challenge before the Supreme Court the detentions of several political leaders, leading to the widely criticized judgment in ADM Jabalpur case.
3. Indira Gandhi Assassination case
Jethmalani appeared for two persons who were accused as conspirators in the case - Balbir Singh and Kehar Singh. Balbir Singh was acquitted by the Court, and Kehar Singh was sentenced to death.
Jethmalani warded off the public criticism of his appearance in the case by saying that he was merely doing his duty as a lawyer.
"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.", Jethmalani later told in an interview about his decision to defend persons who are despised in public forum.
4. Rajiv Gandhi assassination case
Jethmalani appeared for the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case- Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan- in the Supreme Court seeking commutation of their death penalty. In February 2014, the SC commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment accepting the argument that long delay in execution of death sentence is a ground to commute it.
According to the landmark judgment given by the apex court bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, the delay was not only excessive but also irrational and unexplained. The court while delivering its verdict stated that the life imprisonment would mean life in jail till end.
5. Stock market scam
He defended Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parkeh who were accused of the stock market scam of the 1990s. Mehta was convicted by the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court of India for his part in a financial scandal valued at ₹ 4999 Crores which took place on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).
Parekh was convicted in 2008, for involvement in the Indian stock market manipulation scam that occurred from late 1998 to 2001.
6. Parliament attack case
Jethmalani appeared in the appeal of SAR Geelani against his conviction by the trial court in the Parliament attack case. He was awarded death penalty.
The High Court acquitted him in 2003, which was later affirmed by the Supreme Court. Jethmalani appeared for him in the HC and SC.
Welcoming Geelani's acquittal, the senior counsel said, "This verdict will restore the confidence of the entire world, particularly the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir in the integrity and competence of the Indian judicial system. I think this is the greatest benefit of this judgment. I also think that it will help to solve the Kashmir problem."
7. Jayalalitha in disproportionate assets case
He appeared for former Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalitha in the appeal against her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
Jethmalani cited the Lalu Prasad case in the fodder scam, in which he appeared for him, to press for bail for Jayalalithaa, who was the lodged at Parapana Agrahara central prison here since September 27.
The High Court had refused bail in the Lalu case but it was granted by the Supreme Court, he said.
The High Court acquitted Jayalalitha and her aide Sashikala of the charges. Later, the Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and restored the conviction in February 2017. Since Jayalalitha had died in the meanwhile in December 2016, the case against her got abated.
8. Jessica Lall case
He appeared for Manu Sharma, who was accused of killing model Jessia Lall in Delhi in 1999. Sharma was acquitted by a trial court in 2006. However, retrial of the case was ordered by the High Court after a sting operation revealed that witnesses were pressurised to turn hostile.
Jethmalani defended Sharma in the High Court and Supreme Court, amidst public outcry. Jethmalani was however determined about holding the brief, and slammed the media criticism.
In an interview given to Karan Thapar in the 'Devil's Advocate' show , Jethmalani justified his appearance in the case by saying that it was his 'obligation to defend a person against a vicious onslaught by the media'.
9. Kanimozhi in 2G spectrum case
He defended Kanimozhi, daughter of former Tamil Nadu CM Karunanidhi, in the 2G spectrum scam case, which rocked the UPA-II government. He appeared for her seeking bail in the case, saying she had no role in the conspiracy.
She was acquitted by the Special CBI Court, Delhi in December 2017. Special Judge O P Saini held that the prosecution "miserably failed" to prove the charges. The CBI had alleged there was a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the exchequer in allocation of licences for the 2G spectrum, which were scrapped by the top court on February 2, 2012.
10. Black money case
The senior lawyer had a role reversal when he appeared as a petitioner before the Supreme Court in 2014 seeking a Court monitored probe into the issue of black money stashed abroad. He told the Supreme Court that the government's promise to bring back illegal money stashed abroad was "worse than an illusion" and a "fraud on the nation".
Before approaching the Court, he had written a letter to the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley of not doing enough to act against those who have deposited black money in foreign banks. "You are taking the nation to suicide", Jethmalani told Jaitley.
He was also critical of the demonitization of currency notes of Rs. 500 and 1000, and said that the government move will not help in retrieving black money as it was not taking steps to trace the unaccounted money deposited in foreign banks.
Jethmalani has also appeared for L K Advani in the Jain hawala case, Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam case, Asaram Bapu in the sexual assault case.
Dreaded underworld don Haji Masthan was also his client at one point of time.
Fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim is reported to have spoken to Jethmalani expressing his willingness to surrender before Indian courts on conditions.
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.