It’s a personal loss for me. Whatever I have achieved in this profession is because of Mr Ram Jethmalani’s guidance. What I feel today is similar to what I felt earlier this year when I lost my father. It is a great loss for the entire judicial system. I joined Mr Ram Jethmalani as an intern in 2009 and worked with him till 2014. He was extremely polite and encouraging to his juniors.
When I was still an intern, he was appearing for Anil Ambani in a legal dispute with his brother Mukesh Ambani, and I pointed out minor issues during a case conference. He didn’t just appreciate my suggestions but also asked me to remain associated with the case until the end. Such was his greatness. He always gave opportunities to juniors in big cases.
I shared a unique bond with him as both of us appeared for each other as counsels. In 2013, when the BJP expelled Mr Jethmalani, he filed a defamation suit against BJP and appointed me as his lawyer. The matter was resolved in 2018 in an out-of-court settlement.
I had the privilege of him representing me in a National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) matter when I challenged NJAC as a petitioner. We got that matter quashed in 2015. So, my journey started with him as an intern, then a junior, I got the privilege to become his lawyer and I was also privileged enough to have him as my lawyer.
The amount of hard work that Mr Jethmalani put in, no other lawyer can match it. He had a disciplined timeline for all his cases. He would argue from 10 am to 4:30 pm and then the case conferences would go on till late in the evening. This was his routine even when he was in his late eighties and nineties.
His persona was such that even seniormost lawyers would look forward to briefing him.
Mr Jethmalani’s magnanimity can be guessed from this one instance in 2013 when he was waiting to argue before a Supreme Court bench. There was a dispute regarding Bombay tenancy laws. In Bombay, the landlord is under the obligation to maintain property under the building by-laws and a petitioner had a case related to this but his case was dismissed by the bench because the lawyer failed to put across his point. When Mr Jethmalani’s case came up for hearing, he pointed out to the judge that he had made a mistake by dismissing the case. The judge was taken aback, but considering Mr Jethmalani’s legal acumen, he recalled the file and issued a notice in the matter. Later, the judge requested Mr Jethmalani if he could appear in the matter and the latter readily agreed. The case was decided in the petitioner’s favour.
Mr Jethmalani spoke for justice even in cases in which he was not appearing. I remember veterans like Soli Sorabjee, Fali Nariman briefing him in the NJAC matter. He was a man of his words. He opposed the NJAC bill not just as a lawyer but also as a parliamentarian.If we have to have a sequence of top lawyers in the country, then Mr Jethmalani would occupy all top 10 positions. Every other “great lawyer” would only come at 11. And this is not just my view but all practising lawyers will agree with this.
Ashish Dixit, Lawyer practising in New Delhi
(as told to Sana Shakil)