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Saturday 25 January 2020

Jethmalani: Lawyer who represented both angels & demons

India's most reputed criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani defended the accused in some of the most difficult and high-profile cases including in the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi

New Delhi: Eminent jurist and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani, who defended the accused in some of the most difficult and high-profile cases including in the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, passed away on Sunday at the age of 95.

Jethmalani breathed his last at 7.45 AM at his official residence in New Delhi. He was not keeping well for a few months, his son Mahesh Jethmalani said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited the residence of Jethmalani to pay their last respects. His mortal remains were cremated at Lodhi road crematorium later in the evening in the presence of family members, friends and eminent people from various walks of life including Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Ram Jethmalani, who spent over seven decades in Bar, has the distinction of arguing cases varying from the criminal law to constitutional matter besides the economic and commercial disputes.

As a lawyer, Jethmalani rose to fame in 1959 when he was in a team of prosecutors in the KM Nanavati vs State of Maharashtra case in which a Naval commander was tried for the murder of his wife’s lover.

This was among the last cases to be heard as a jury trial in India, as the government abolished jury trials soon thereafter.

obituaryJethmalani, who had not been keeping well for the last few months, had stopped attending court hearings but during the last 10 years, he appeared in some of the most sensitive criminal cases. He himself had filed a PIL (public interest litigation) on the issue of black money during the previous UPA regime following which the Supreme Court had passed a slew of directions for the government.

The legendary lawyer is known for representing people from various walks of life including politicians cutting across political parties, big businessmen and corporate houses, Bollywood actors and underworld dons. He has the distinction of appearing before the court in Pakistan’s Karachi in the pre-independence era after he graduated in law at the age of 17 years and moved to India in 1948 after the partition.

The most important case he dealt immediately after the partition was the one in which he won a legal battle opposing the Bombay Refugees Act that allowed the State to relocate, sequester and question refugees anytime.

Jethmalani, who used to be described by legal luminaries as the “best mind in criminal law”, was one of the most sought after advocates. During his career, he appeared in several high-profile criminal cases in various trial courts and high courts of the country, besides the Supreme Court.

Before he got success in politics, Jethmalani was among the legal luminaries to oppose the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi government and the clamping of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, a controversial law mandating authorities to make arbitrary arrests and jail those opposing her decisions.

Jethmalani’s human side was reflected when he decided to defend accused Kehar Singh and Balbir Singh in the Indira Gandhi assassination case. He won the acquittal for Balbir Singh and when Singh’s son, Rajinder Singh, was sacked from the government job, he employed him in his office.

Arun Jaitley was reportedly not on good terms with Ram Jethmalani, a reason for which the veteran criminal lawyer fell out of favour of the prime minister despite being among the first to float Narendra Modi‘s name as the future premier of the country

The lawyers who worked with Jethmalani describe him as a “real champion of human rights” as he in his long career of 75 years took up several cases of illegal detention, including that of Sant Longowal during the Punjab militancy in the 1980s and defended people in most sensitive, difficult and controversial cases from across the country.

Besides the Indira Gandhi assassination case, he also defended Rajiv Gandhi’s killers in the Madras high court in 2011.

Jethmalani also defended Delhi University’s Professor SAR Geelani, who was acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Parliament attack case in 2001.

Jethmalani was also a lawyer for Amit Shah when he was facing a charge in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case of Gujarat in which he was later discharged. He appeared for Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh in the stock market scams, in the JMM bribery case against Narasimha Rao and appeared for Anil Ambani’s Reliance Natural Resources Ltd in the dispute between the Ambani brothers over gas supply.

He also represented Manu Sharma, son of an influential Congress leader, in the Jessica Lall murder case.

Jethmalani was the lead petitioner in the black money case during the previous UPA regime in the Supreme Court and he also represented Arvind Kejriwal in the civil and criminal defamation cases filed by late Arun Jaitley against him. Jaitley, who died recently, too, was reportedly not on good terms with Jethmalani, a reason for which the veteran criminal lawyer fell out of favour of the prime minister despite being among the first to float Modi’s name as the future premier of the country.

Jethmalani was defence lawyer in many cases — for LK Advani in the Jain Hawala case, Jayalalithaa in a disproportionate asset case, Kanimozhi in the 2G scam, Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam and BS Yediyurappa in a mining scam. He had argued also for Sanjay Dutt’s bail before the Supreme Court in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts.

When the Bofors pay off case had emerged, he had posed 10 questions per day to Rajiv Gandhi. He later defended Hinduja brothers in this case. He had also appeared for Mumbai underworld don Haji Mastan in several cases of smuggling.

Jethmalani represented self-styled godman Asaram Bapu in a rape case involving a minor girl in Jodhpur in 2013.

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