Ram Jethmalani, veteran criminal lawyer and former Union Law Minister, passed away on Sunday morning at his residence in New Delhi. He was 95. According to reports, the lawyer had been on round-the-clock medical support over the past one week. His family told news agency PTI that he had not been keeping well for a few months. His son Mahesh Jethmalani added that his last rites will be conducted at the Lodhi road crematorium in New Delhi on Sunday evening.
Though he was primarily known as a criminal lawyer – one of the highest paid in India – Jethmalani appeared in many high profile cases. Among the noted ones are defending the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi case in the Madras High Court, defending the death sentence given to Afzal Guru – convicted in the attack on Parliament in 2001 – and representing Manu Sharma, the prime accused in the Jessica Lal murder case.
He also appeared for the defendants in the Indira Gandhi assassination case, Harshad Mehta stock scam case, Ketan Parekh case; he was LK Advani’s defence lawyer in the hawala case, Jayalalithaa’s defence lawyer in the disproportionate assets case, Kanimozhi’s defence in 2G scam trial, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s defence in fodder scam case, BS Yediyurappa’s defence in the mining scam case, among several others.
The senior lawyer had also dabbled in politics, and won the general elections in 1980 on a BJP ticket from Mumbai. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in the 6th and 7th Lok Sabha. In 1996, he became the Union Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. He held the portfolio during Vajpayee’s second term as well, after which he was then asked to resign. Between June 1999 and July 2000, he served as the Minister of Law and Justice before which, from March 1998 to June 1999, he was the Minister of Urban Development. Later, he went on to unsuccessfully contest against Vajpayee from the Lucknow parliamentary constituency in 2004. In 2010, the BJP gave him Rajya Sabha ticket.
Born on September 14, 1923, Ram Jethmalani completed school at the age of 13 after getting a double promotion. He joined Bombay University and obtained his LLB degree at the age of 17. After challenging a law which stated that the minimum age for becoming a lawyer was 21, he was allowed to begin practicing at the age of 18 in his hometown Shikharpur, Bombay Presidency, British India (now in Sindh, Pakistan). After the partition, he migrated to Mumbai and set up his practice there.
For 75 long years, he served as a member of the Bar and retired in September 2017. He is survived by his son, noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani, and a US-based daughter.
Several lawyers, politicians and journalists condoled the veteran lawyer’s death.