Ram Jethmalani, Senior Advocate

lawz magazine.comWhen we talk of good, humble, successful and daring lawyers, the first name which comes to the mind is Ram Jethmalani. The family inherits its surname Jethmalani from Shri Jethmal who was a living legend and governor under the Mirs of Shikarpur. Ram Jethmalani was born in this illustrious family on 14th September 1923 to Shri Boolchand and Srimati Parvati.  Ram Jethmalani is the only son of his father and only grandson of his grand father, both of whom were eminent lawyers. Ram Jethmalani won many accolades and prizes both in school and college.  He became a full-fledged lawyer before completing the age of 18. He has credit of appearing in landmark cases which has evolved our legal system. Many consider him as one of the best Criminal lawyers in the country. But a few know that Ram Jethmalani has appeared in more Civil and Constitutional matter than Criminal cases. Success has taken Ram Jethmalani to places. But even today he tries to take out time for teaching, which is his first love. Inspite of having a busy schedule Mr. Jethmalani took time for Lawz team in the early evening of a Saturday and shared some exclusive moments of his long stretch in the legal profession.

“I qualified law before the age of 18

I am born in the family of lawyers. My grandfather, father, uncles, cousins were all lawyers. More than anything else my grandfather, under whose immediate guardianship I passed my youth, was an extremely successful lawyer. I had a flair for participation in college debates and also the union school debates. I used to think that on the first day of my appearance in the court I would immediately attract clients and people would come to me. My father was not a successful lawyer and he diverted me from the field of law and sought my admission in a science college, as he wanted me to become an engineer. At that time I was in Karachi and I was very unhappy while pursuing the intermediate science course.  However, in that very year the Bombay University introduced a new  two years law course after intermediary course. I managed to pass my intermediary science from the science college and joined the Bombay University and never repented again.

Sir John Davis, the then Chief Justice of Sind, assured me that he will talk

At that time, while I was pursuing my law degree, Bombay bar had imposed a restriction that only at the age of 21 years can anyone become a lawyer. But since I was qualified at the age of 17 years, the bar told me that they didn’t had the power to enroll me as I was not even a major and therefore any such contract would be void. However, they informed me that as soon as I turn 18 years I would be enrolled in the bar council (since I had topped in the Bombay university). Thereafter, I had a talk with Sir John Davis, the then Chief Justice of Sind, who assured me that he will talk to the bar council about it and I be treated as an exceptional case. Bar council assured that I would be treated as an exceptional case and thus I was treated so.

“I don’t say that I am different from others

You do not have to be different from others to be successful. The honest answer for this is that success depends upon the circumstances in which you are or the circumstances surrounding you at the relevant time. There may be some circumstances that are beyond your control and you cannot claim credit for it. There are certain incidents  which may not happen in the life of worthy people but happens in others life making that person more successful than the worthy person. I’ll give you my experience on this. When I migrated to Bombay after the Partition, a senior lawyer was selected for the Indian Administrative Services and he came to me requesting to handle a dacoity case on his behalf. He told me not to expect any fee for the case. The case was a sensational one as the dacoity had taken place in the central bank in fort area  and another in Mahalakshmi temple in Bombay. This case made my name in the jury of law in Bombay that year. It may not have happened again. Opportunity must come with some qualifications. It is the mixture of qualification plus the opportunity to show that qualification. Opportunity is beyond your control and you cannot take credit for it.

Till now I have been indulged more in civil cases as compared to criminal

A lawyer must always be prepared for the case. All your life you are supposed to remain a student. Law is so vast and for becoming a good lawyer, a person is supposed to atleast read English cases, American cases and the Commonwealth Reports. Law is a vast ocean and you are at the seashore trying to pick up few bits of sand and it is not possible for any lawyer to master in every branch of law. I never tried to specialize in the field of criminal law. It is only that criminal cases attract the public attention. One tends to make a good reputation by winning good criminal matters. Even after winning civil cases, but due to less media and public attention, they do not  get highlighted.  I have started my career with civil matters. Till date I have done more civil cases as compared to criminal cases. In law reports mostly my name is seen in civil cases only.

Lawyers are supposed to apply soothing honey to the wounds that people in society

In politics, knowledge of law works as a great asset. Knowledge of law is of great help and knowledge gives you some other qualifications. For example, precession of thought, proper use of language, art of persuasion by speech, lawyer’s understanding of the opponents strength and overall his commitment to justice. I recall an incident in the life of Buddha. Buddha’s brother had once shot a bird and claimed the bird as the right of conquest. But Buddha said “No” and took charge of the bird and put the bird on his lap and took out the arrow and then applied some honey on it for the smoothing effect and put the bird back to life and fly it off to freedom. That is what the lawyers are primarily to do. The lawyers are supposed to apply soothing honey to the wounds, that people in society continue to inflict on each other and you may loose for a little time but it will probably bring you the reward of providence and probably the apprehension of the people. A good lawyer is one who does not create litigation. The first duty of a seasoned lawyer is to prevent litigation. In order to prevent litigation the lawyer must advise clients firstly not to go to the court and to settle the matter outside the court. In courts the lawyers are so determined to speak the truth but cannot do so as the part of the truth is so incredible that it may destroy the creditability of the other side.

 Every person has a right   to defend

There is a chapter in the Bar Council of India rules called the rules of Professional Conduct and Ethics. These rules have the statutory force and have been made by the bar council under the Advocates Act. Rule 16 under the bar council rules says that no lawyer shall refuse to defend the person who pleads not to be guilty or to whom others believe to be guilty. It is the express rule of the Indian bar council and it is one of the highest traditions of British bar from where we have incorporated our rules of behavior. If an accused cannot find a lawyer to stand for him to defend then it is the end of freedom and democracy and the judiciary is rendered impotent.

In the infamous Indira Gandhi assassination case: Satvant Singh was the person who appeared on the spot and said that he did it and nobody clearly defended him. There was another person who participated in shooting and was killed on the spot. But if the person has surrendered and he is being killed in custody then it amounts to plain murder. There were two other persons behind the scene. All three accused appeared before the trial court and were sentenced capital punishment. Appeals were preferred by the guilty against the death sentence before the High Court. Nobody accept the cases of the accused persons. I appeared for the other two accused and not for Satvant Singh in the High Court. I was requested by the High Court to appear as the counsel for the accused. High court’s request is to be treated as the command and no respectable lawyer can deny such a command. I see no wrong in appearing for people accused of heinous crimes such as murder or dacoity etc. I am a professional and it is my duty towards the law to assist and try to get justice for the innocent. I remember an incident arising out of this case. In 1988 I became a member of the Rajya Sabha. I was elected from Karnataka. While I was taking the oath the members of congress in the Rajya Sabha got up and shouted that “Indira Gandhi’s murderer’s lawyer is here”. After taking the oath and with the prior approval of the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, I responded to the shouting and said that the people have a very poor opinion of their deceased leader. Would Indira Gandhi’s soul be happy if an innocent is hanged. I told them to wait for the court’s orders. The rest is history.

In criminal cases, one has to deal with facts and evidence

I have done more civil and constitutional cases. But they were not published in the law reports though there were many tough cases there. In criminal cases in the trial court a lawyer has to be more skilled in cross examination. Unfortunately these days cross examination has become a dying art. I do not recollect seeing a good cross examination in the past several years. Civil cases leads to legal impurity. In criminal cases, one has to deal with facts and evidence and that is not so in the case of civil matters.

The level of our judgements have been declining

My honest opinion is that there is fall in the status of our judiciary. Forty years ago, a magistrate used to deliver better judgments than today’s Supreme Courts judgments. There is also a decline in the standard of the judges. The main reasons behind this decline I think is the method of appointment of our judges. There has to be improvement in this system of appointment and more transparency is needed. I say that corruption in the judiciary needs to be monitored by the judiciary. I’ll state an example. We know that there is a case in which a High court judge is being accused of corruption but unfortunately the case is not proceeding with the pace it ought to have. The high court and the Supreme Court judges are not monitoring it. I say why cannot you monitor a case against your own fraternity. What stops you from doing so? If someone raises this cause, he is hauledup. Take the example of Prashant Bhushan who had been recently prosecuted for contempt for raising an issue like this. Somebody has to speak up, suffer and face the consequences. People have lost the courage to speak the truth. It is said that nothing is worth living for unless it is worth dying for.

I have always supported the National Judicial Commission. But here the question is who is representing the commission. These days even the lawyers want to become judges. The bar is an institution that comes to know about the reputation of a judge. I have remained associated with a small committee of judicial accountablity of 5-6 workers. We have raised the current issue by holding enquiries and commonly felt that national judicial commission must have the representative of the bar, judicial, prime minister, leader of opposition, academic world, and world of social science.

kept in foreign accounts by the corrupt politicians.

India is not a poor country but is poor because of the corrupt politicians. About fifteen hundred billion dollars are secretly kept in foreign accounts by the corrupt politicians. If this money is distributed in the economy it gives around 2.5 lacs to every Indian family. There will be debt free budget for the next 30 years and would completely liquidate the national and external debts.

I was never offered judgeship

I was never offered judgeship. If I would have been in the judiciary surely and no doubt I would have made some difference. The judgments delivered by the judges these days are awful. The quality has declined tremendously and is terrible.

Teaching is my first love

Besides politics, teaching law interest me a lot. I regularly go to colleges to teach the students.  I am  also the founder of a national law college. I love appearing before the students. I teach them and welcome the questions being asked by them. Intelligent students ask intelligent questions and seeing that I feel proud of the student and myself also. I don’t think one can get the same satisfaction as this in the court rooms.

Talking about the students I always tell them the story of  the first lawyer in history. The first lawyer in history was a young man called Devon. His story  begins in ancient Babylon. Susan was a woman of beauty. Babylon was ruled by the counsels consisting of elders who used to run the state. They charged a woman by the name of Susan for committing adultery with an unknown young man. At that point of time, there was no judiciary or a judge in Ancient Babylon. In those days the sentence was carried out by the custodian of woman and the crowd gathered to see the blood of this poor woman flow. From the crowd a man known as Devon said that he cannot believe Susan has committed this offence and would like to ask few question from the elders. He did not know how to cross examine nor had any evidence. So he asked from the crowd where did you find this adultery happened. Somebody said in the palace, in sky, oak tree etc. All gave different answers. Eventually she was let-off as the guilty was not proved. So the first case the history knows was done for free. The lesson learnt is that law as a profession is very noble and honorable.

Young lawyer should not enter this profession with the thinking of earning money only. They should serve the nation and enter this profession with this kind of idealism. They should never do any wrong. Corruption starts from the law colleges mostly. Little money is been paid for the question papers and little more is paid to get the answer sheets also. Sadly this  corruption these days have also reached the apex court.

-This Interview was published in LawZ April 2010 Issue

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