Ram Boolchand Jethmalani was a well- known Indian lawyer and politician born on September 14, 1923, in Shikarpur of Sindh province. He had an interest in law and pursued it despite being highly criticized and chided by his father. He got his LL.B. degree at the age of 17 and started practicing law in his hometown Karachi until the partition of India. He fought the very first case at the age of 17 in the court of Sindh under Justice Godfrey Davis, contesting the rule regarding the minimum age passed by the bar council of Sindh. Though at that time the minimum age for becoming a lawyer was 21, he made an application to the court contesting the rule regarding minimum age. As a result of this, the court allowed him to become a lawyer at the age of 18.

 He worked for many years in the Supreme Court and was regarded as the highest-paid lawyer in the country because of his ability to turn around the hardest of cases. He defended many high profile personalities including renowned politicians and gangsters throughout his career.

He moved to Bombay in the year 1948 and started practicing in Bombay. In 1954, he became a part-time professor at the Government Law College, Mumbai. He earned a reputation of being a smuggler’s lawyer after he defended Haji Mastan, in a smuggling case.  In 1988, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha.  In 1996, when the Government of India was led by Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he became the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Urban Development. He was also the Professor Emeritus at Symbiosis Law School, Pune and served as the chairperson of the weekly newspaper ‘The Sunday Guardian’. In the year 2004, he contested against Vajpayee from Lucknow in the Lok Sabha elections. He had represented BJP in Lok Sabha for two times. He had written books on various law subjects such as- private international law, media law and conflicts of law. He also wrote many books, including ‘Justice Soviet-Style’, ‘Big Egos Small Men’, ‘Conscience of a maverick’, ‘Maverick: unchanged, unrepentant’.

The eminent lawyer got married to Durga when he was over 18 years of age. In 1947, just before partition, he again married Ratna Shahani, a lawyer by profession.

In the year 2010, Mr. Ramjeth Malani was elected as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association. In May 2013, he was expelled from BJP for his anti-party statements.  On 9th September 2017, he announced his retirement from the legal profession.

Ram Jethmalani: A look at his most famous cases-

Mr. Ram Jethmalani, one of the most famous lawyers of the country, was known to take up high profile criminal cases. It was his appearance in the famous Nanavati case in 1959 with YV Chandrachud who later became India’s Chief Justice that first brought Jethmalani into the spotlight. Chandrachud and Jethmalani appeared for the prosecution in the case where a navy commander Nanavati had shot his wife’s lover.

By the end of 1960, he was the lawyer for many smugglers.

In the mid-1970s, Mr. Ram Jethmalani left India to escape from arrest during emergency years because he believed he could be of greater use outside the country. In 1977, he returned and contested the General Elections where he defended law minister HR Gokhale. He was often seen as a crusader for lost causes: from Balbir, assassins of Indira Gandhi, to underworld don Haji Mastan, stock scamster Harshad Mehta, conspirators in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and Jessica Lal’s murderer Manu Sharma.

 Along with Advocate Kamini Jaiswal, Mr. Jethmalani successfully defended former Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, who was a suspect in the 2001 Parliament attacks by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Jaiswal said that she was ‘very disturbed’ by Jethmalani’s decision to defend Manu. 

11 High profile cases where Mr. Ram Jethmalani appeared for an opposition party:

  1. Ram Jethmalani had appeared for Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh, convicted for the assassination of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
  2. He had appeared in Harshad Mehta’s defence in the stock market scam.
  3. He defended underworld Don Haji Mastan in smuggling cases.
  4. He appeared for Amit Shah in several fake counter cases including Sohrabuddin Sheikh Encounter case.
  5. In Havala scam, he had argued for senior BJP leader LK Advani. Recently Jethmalani claimed that Advani won in the Havala case because he had appeared for him.
  6. Ram Jethmalani was also Manu Sharma’s lawyer who was convicted in Jessica Lal murder case.
  7. He also argued for Rajiv Gandhi assassination case convict V Sriharan alias Murugan.
  8. 2G scam accused Kanimozhi had hired Jethmalani to represent her in Court.
  9. Jethmalani had defended former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa in an illegal mining case.
  10. He argued for AIADMK leader and chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa convicted in the disproportionate assets case.
  11. He appeared to bail out 72-year-old Asaram, accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in his Jodhpur ashram.

He has argued for people whose social background and political ideology are vastly different from his own. He claimed that he had fought 90 percent cases free of cost. He also contended that he would not take a single penny from Delhi Minister Arvind Kejriwal for defending him in a defamation case slapped on him by former Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley.

Mr. Ram Jethmalani died on 8th September 2019 in New Delhi at his home. He was unwell for the last few months and died six days short of his 96th Birthday. Mr. Jethmalani’s death is a huge loss to the entire legal fraternity. He was cremated at Delhi’s Lodhi Road Crematorium on the very evening.

Vandana Nehra
Banasthali Vidyapith


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