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Senior lawyer and former Union law minister Ram Jethmalani passed away this morning. Jethmalani was 95.
At the age of 94, Jethmalani had announced retirement from the legal profession to spend his time in trying to ward off corrupt forces from the country. Jethmalani has served as the Law Minister and the Urban Development Minister in the Vajpayee Government.
Jethmalani obtained his LLB degree at the age of 17 from Bombay University. Although the minimum age for becoming a lawyer at the time was 21 years, a special exception was made for him after he made a court application contesting the rule prescribing the minimum age. He started his practice in the pre-partition era in Sindh, a part of present-day Pakistan.
Following the partition, he moved to Mumbai. He was a vocal critic of the of he Emergency. He served as the Chairman of the Bar Council of India (BCI) during this period. He has served in the capacity four times, both before and after the emergency. He has also served as a member of the International Bar Association. In 2010, he as elected the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Among the interesting anecdotes reported about his early legal career is how his first client – a distressed landlord who approached the law firm started by Jethmalani and his friend AK Brohi – was charged Re 1. Over the years, he built up a reputation as fierce criminal lawyer, and went on to appear in several high profile criminal cases including the landmark KM Nanavati case (in which case he was prosecutor) which paved the way for abolition of jury trials in India.
Other notable cases in which Jethmalani has appeared include the Harshad Mehta stock scam case, the Jessica Lal murder case, the 2001 Parliamentary attacks case, the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalitha, the Hawala case against LK Advani, the 2G Spectrum case in which he was Kanimozhi’s defence counsel, the Bihar Fodder scam case in which he was Lalu Prasad Yadav’s defence counsel, the BS Yediyurappa mining scam case among numerous others.
On the political side, he was one of the founding members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who went on to become the Union Minister of Law, apart from holding the Urban Development portfolio, during the Vajpayee-led regime. Later he served as a Rajya Sabha member with support from the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
He announced his retirement from legal practice twice, the first being over 14 years ago when he had placed a sign on the front door of his residence which read – “I am not accepting any new court matters but welcome for anything else.” He broke the hiatus and returned to the court to defend Jessica Lal murder accused (now convict) Manu Sharma.
In 2017, however, he broke news of his decision to quit legal practice for good during the felicitation ceremony for former Chief Justice of India stating,
“My regret is that when Justice Misra became the Chief Justice of India, I decided to retire from the profession.”
At the time, Jethmalani has also added that his doors will always remain open to young lawyers who are willing to learn and that he would help them in every way possible.