Ram Jethmalani: He Challenged the Minimum Age of 21 in Court to Become a Lawyer at 18
On September 8, 2019, at the age of 95, noted lawyer of India, Ram Jethmalani, breathed his last at his home in New Delhi. As per news reports, his elder son, Mahesh Jethmalani, informed that his father had not been keeping well for the past few days.
The renowned lawyer was born on September 14, 1923 at Shikarpur Sindh in the then Bombay Presidency which is now a part of Pakistan. His mother was Parbati Boolchand while father was Boolchand Gurumukhdas Jethmalani.
He was barely 18 years old when he got married to his first wife, Durga. Later, during the partition period, he got married to Ratna who was also a lawyer by profession. From his first marriage, he has three children – Rani and Mahesh who are also Supreme Court lawyers, and Shobha. From his second wife, he has one son, Janak.
He became a lawyer when he was merely 18 years old, through a double promotion he achieved for his brilliant academic run. At that point, the minimum age to become a lawyer was 21. However, an application that he made challenging the age limit of a lawyer authorized him to become a lawyer at 18.
Before partition, Jethmalani used to run his own law firm in Karachi. However, after the riots, he fled to India from Karachi and stayed at a refugee camp.
The first case he fought in India was to challenge a new law, i.e. Bombay Refugee Act which was passed by the then CM of Bombay State, Morarji Desai. Under that law, the refugees were not only dehumanized but also ended up being treated like inmates. To oppose this deportment, Jethmalani filed a case at Bombay High Court, appealing to declare the law as unconstitutional, and eventually won a stupendous victory. Another high-profile case that he fought in Bombay was the case against Naval Commander KM Nanavati, where he was part of the prosecution team. In that case, however, Nanavati was eventually acquitted of the charge of killing his wife’s lover.
Ram Jethmalani came into the national limelight when he openly criticised then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for imposing emergency in 1975-1977. And for that, an arrest warrant was issued against him, but was stayed since almost 300 lawyers appeared for him in the Bombay High Court. After a short span of time, the stay was rendered invalid and Jethmalani relocated to Canada for 10 months, only to return to India as soon as the emergency was lifted.
The eminent lawyer also tried his luck in politics and became a Rajya Sabha member in 1988. Later, in 1996, he was appointed the Union Minister of Law and Justice in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. In 1998, in the second term of the Vajpayee government, he was given the post of Union Minister of Urban Affairs and Employment. However, on October 13, 1999, he again took the oath for Union Minister for Law, Justice and Company Affairs. Things went sour when he was asked to resign after a contention with the then Chief Justice of India, Adarsh Sein Anand, and Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee.
Later in the career, he also formed his own political party called ‘Pavitra Hindustan Kazhagam’ and their motto was “Transparency in functioning of Indian Democracy”.
During his lifetime, Jethmalani was also termed an “opportunist” since he accepted a ticket to contest the elections from any party that offered him the opportunity. Some of his utterances were also considered to be unceremonious, such as the one time when he said that China is an enemy of both India and Pakistan, in front of the Chinese ambassador and the then Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
In his lifetime, he fought several high-profile cases, regardless of the alleged crime of the accused. Jethmalani was widely criticised for Indira Gandhi assassination case, where he appeared for Balbir Singh and Kehar Singh, the duo accused of the conspiracy. Not only Indira Gandhi, but in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case too, he appeared for the convicts Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan for the commutation of their death penalty. Some of the other controversial cases fought by Jethmalani are Stock market scam, Parliament attack case, Jayalalitha disproportionate assets case, Jessica Lall murder case, Asaram Bapu sexual assault case, Sohrabuddin encounter case to name a few. To counter the public criticism for his choice of cases, he said at a public forum that “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”.