ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Ethics of Legal Representation

Throughout his long and distinguished career, Ram Jethmalani was a hugely controversial figure, liked or disliked based on who he represented in court. This, however, is the wrong way to frame an understanding of his work as a lawyer. In focusing on “who” he represented, there is a risk that the fundamental right of representation for the accused is undermined, and it prevents us from also critiquing the “how” of representation.

This is not an obituary of Ram Jethmalani. This is an attempt to address one of the most divisive aspects of his life and work: his representation of controversial accused in criminal cases. It is a point that emerges almost immediately in conversations about Jethmalani and is likely to do so for some time. Starting with K M Nanavati, the naval officer accused of murder, and more recently former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, accused in the disproportionate assets case, Jethmalani was never one to shy away from taking up the cases of the most high profile of accused, no matter how diabolical their deeds.

It has not always been the rich and powerful who have found a lawyer in Jethmalani. He has defended those accused of conspiracy in the Indira Gandhi assassination case and also the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. His defence of S A R Geelani in the Parliament attack case helped in Geelani’s eventual acquittal by the Delhi High Court (Haksar 2019). However, his advocacy in the Delhi High Court and firm belief that Kehar Singh was innocent of the offences he was accused of did not prevent the latter’s conviction and eventual execution (Nevatia 2009).

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Updated On : 21st Sep, 2019

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