For his merciless skewering of the ignorant shrill
License to…Hic! and Retributions point to the interview where Ram Jethmalani took on a shrill reporter who confused public opinion (and those of television channels—its self-appointed proxy) for the judicial system. Why, she wanted to know, had the veteran lawyer agreed to represent a murderer so clearly guilty and so clearly reviled?
Jethmalani tells her why. Required reading for the many who believe majority opinion can blindly negate individual rights.
Sagarika Ghose: But what makes you so convinced about the innocence of Manu Sharma?
Ram Jethmalani: I donâ€™t have to convince myself. I am only convinced that the man is entitled to a fair trial. He is entitled to the services of a good lawyer. Courts will decide and no Pressman, no editor or (television crew) will decide. [CNN-IBN]
As Vivek recommends, the whole interview is worth watching (or reading).
The “liberal” media’s position on serious crime suffers from a logical inconsistency. On the one hand they argue that it is wrong to provide the best legal representation for those accused of the most serious of crimes. On the other they contend that the sorts of Mohd Afzal must be granted clemency because, among other things, they didn’t get a fair trial. This is exactly the opposite of what constitutes a just legal system, and that is to give the accused the best legal defence and then punish those found guilty. Without, of course, the accompanying media circus.
Related Link: Apollo and Sharique on how the media selects its talking heads.
30 thoughts on “Ram Jethmalani rocks”
“Required reading for the many who believe majority opinion can blindly negate individual rights.”
While supporting Jethmalani’s right to defend Manu Sharma, in case this was a dig at people (assumed majority) who support Bangalore being renamed Bengaluru, just wanted to say legal rights (individual rights should be supreme – not always true in India) are not same as someone’s preference towards common property.
This comment has been deleted, as the author was impersonating Atanu Dey.
Sagarika Ghose’s tactis were clearly deceitful and she was trying to frame the debate in a way that makes Jethmalani look like the stereotypical blood-sucking-lawyer, an image that the man on the street is familiar with. Some of the media behaviour has been quite brazen and bizzarre – they argue that Afzal did not get a fair trial, celebrate Geelani’s acquittal and the Mattoo case sentencing as victory for justice, and are now out to smear Jethmalani because he stands between their next ‘victory’ and a possible acquittal of Manu Sharma. I believe Manu Sharma is guilty, but I don’t expect the courts to agree because they have more information about the case than I do.
One thing is similar to the Afzal case – the media is trying to expolit the public’s mistrust (not entirely baseless) of law enforcement institutions. Which is why Ms.Ghose is clutching at straws pointing fingers at how the high and mighty always get away. May be they are, but we still have to keep working within the constitution.
Most importantly, people have to respect the fact that the most heinous criminal has a right to a fair trial and representation. Even terrorists.
[the person who was impersonating] atanu says:
As Mr. Jethmalani says, he needs only to convince himself that “[Manu Sharma] is entitled to a fair trial. He is entitled to the services of a good lawyer.” In that, he is in compliance with what his professional ethics. His personal ethics may have motivated his criticism of BJP. If your were the CEO of a corporation, you have a fiduciary responsibility (professional ethics) to maximize the shareholders’ wealth. That, in your judgement, may even imply that you support Bush’s (here, in the US) fiscal policies. It does not necessarily imply that you are obliged not to criticize Bush’s faith-based initiatives.
Ram jethmalani did well to put Sagarika “snorting heroine” Ghosh in her place. What does the media think of itself? Everyone has the right to due process of law under the Indian constitution. Why is it that the media always cries like a baby whose lollipop is taken away whenever the verdict is something they don’t like.
And on a larger plane why is it that those on the Indian left have so little respect for the Indian constitution and the due process of law.We see the UPA and its cronies trying to subvert the constitution and the media disparging the rule of law when it doesn’t suit them.
Their hypocrisy sucks.
Barkha,their torch bearer wrote an typically over the top op-ed piece castigating Jethmalani for taking up this case .In the same piece she also tried to use some convulted logic how this case from Prof.Geelani’s case
Manu might be typical super-rich, well-connected brat who got away scot-free for his alleged crime.However his right to be defended by the lawyer of his choice cannot be taken away
I wear my contempt for media on my sleeves and I think Sagarika Ghose is, like all of them, a natural-born twit. Having said that, sure, fine words were spoken by Jethmalani, but in the absolutely wrong context.
Is what Jethmalani doing morally defensible? Yes, everybody is entitled to a fair trial. But is it morally acceptable of a lawyer to claim innocence of a client if he himself is not convinced of it? Has Jethmalani convinced himself of the innocence of Manu Sharma? He must have, or he wouldn’t be pleading not guilty on his behalf. Is it a personal conviction — a belief in the accused’s protestations of innocence? Or is it a reasoned conclusion? I’d like to know more.
I would like to know more for two reasons. One. The Manu Sharma case has been set up as one in which there was a miscarriage of justice; as an instance of the bias in our legal system in favor of the powerful and the wealthy; an example of how the high and mighty tamper with evidence, buy witnesses and get away literally with murder. Believing these claims to be true, many citizens of this country also believe that they have a personal stake in the case’s outcome.
Two. Jethmalani is not an ordinary lawyer. He is one of the country’s best-known senior citizens. He is one of the country’s best minds on criminal law. He is a former law minister. He was on the side of several campaigns many of which were deemed to be in public interest. He represented an alleged do-gooder NGO in the Best Bakery case — which was set up as another example of miscarriage of justice (more on that later). So when he takes up Manu Sharma’s case — knowing well that that case has in public perception become a question mark on our legal system itself — he owes the public an explanation. He has chosen to savage Ghose instead — a soft target.
I must confess I have no expertise on professional ethics in the legal profession. Readers who do, please illuminate this discussion.
As for owing the public an explanation…I don’t think he needs to. He says something to the effect in the interview. Whatever his past may be, what matters is his present: he’s not a public official at this time, and what he does is literally his own business.
Someone needs to tell Sagarika Ghose that even in the US (which country her channel endlessly talks up) every accused has what is called as Miranda Rights. The accused is told of his/her right at arrest time, of his/her right to a lawyer, and if s/he couldn’t afford one, the US Govt. will provide a lawyer for his/her defense. Why shouldn’t anyone get a lawyer ?
This is the beauty of democracy, otherwise, we will be another banana republic – hanging people without proper trial.
I wonder what Ms. Ghose would think, tomorrow, if she is accused of murder, and every lawyer were to refuse to take her case up, because they *think* she is guilty. Would she still be talking of “defending the indefensible” ? Or, will be she be desperately trying to get a lawyer ???
Why am I saying all this anyway ? The media is not going to listen. They don’t care. It is not on principle that they are making such noises. For them, it is just a way to garner cheap publicity.
Firstly, it doesn’t matter what the case has become in “public perception”. The public is no one to judge a purely legal case. The public perception would matter if Mr. Sharma or Mr. Jethmalani were to contest elections or to seek public approval in some other way.
Secondly, it was Ms. Ghose who chose to interview Mr. Jethmalani (through the channel, of course), not the other way round.
To come to the broader question of ethics, one has to separate the professional from the personal. Someone has already given an example of a CEO, and plenty of examples exist – virtually in every profession. Look at an Army soldier (hardly ever knows whom he killed). Look at a policeman (is hardly ever certain whether the person in custody is guilty or not). Look at diplomats (only concerned with their own national interest). All these things result in grief to someone somewhere. But that alone does not make them unethical.
A lawyer is not expected to convince himself of the person’s innocense. True, there are lawyers who refuse to take “indefensible” cases (for personal reasons) but that does not mean that every lawyer is obliged to do the same.
Further, ethics are also about intent. And since we have no reason to ascribe malicious intent to Mr. Jethmalani, I say we let him do his job.
The problem is that TV channels say things like ‘public opinion in India is in favour of/against X’ purely on the basis of the responses to the polls they conducted on their websites or through SMS. Anyone with a barebones knowledge of statistics will rubbish that claim. They only represent the %age of people _among_ those who voted for/against the issue. The number of people who voted will is very likely miniscule, probably not even good enough to support any statistical analysis, especially since the TV channels don’t reveal the _number_ of participants. Instead, they just say 70% of India thinks when they’d have had 140 respondents and 100 saying something.
“I must confess I have no expertise on professional ethics in the legal profession. Readers who do, please illuminate this discussion.”
I once read a Gandhi quote (and I am unable to look it up) to the effect that a lawyer must take up a case only on its merits, and must not plead his client’s innocence unless he himself is convinced of it. IIRC, Gandhi goes a step further and advocate that a morally upright lawyer should, when approached by a client he knows to be in the wrong, educate that client to confess his guilt in the court.
Regardless of Gandhi’s views on the matter: a lawyer is also a citizen, and an upright citizen should not be a party to wrong-doing – which is what bailing out a guilty client amounts to. Lawyers cannot argue that their “right” to try and get a client acquitted overrides their responsibilities as citizens. Journalists use a similar logic to refuse to divulge the whereabouts of their ‘sources’, even when the sources happen to be dreaded terrorists.
A lawyer us supposed to assist the court in arriving at a correct decision. However, the way legal system works, he is ultimately an advocate of his client and has to keep his best interests in the mind. If that means, not speaking the whole truth, so be it.
RR : So basically what you are saying is, we need to overhaul the entire judicial system by transferring the responsibility of determining guilt from the judge / jury to the legal community.
I’m surprised that you should think that a lawyer defending an accused is ‘party to wrong-doing’. Moreover, even the guilty have a right to legal representation.
>> even the guilty have a right to legal representation.
Not contesting this point.
>> Iâ€™m surprised that you should think that a lawyer defending an accused is â€˜party to wrong-doingâ€™.
Only if the lawyer knows that his client is guilty, and knowing so fully well, pleads in a court that he is not guilty.
Such a lawyer is effectively lying.
A lot of you guys seem to have gotten me wrong. Let me clarify what I am resposnding to. I am responding to Jethmalani’s claim hat he doesn’t have to convince himself of his client’s innocence. I think he has to.
“So basically what you are saying is, we need to overhaul the entire judicial system by transferring the responsibility of determining guilt from the judge / jury to the legal community.”
I am basically saying that a lawyer should not plead the innocence of his client unless he is convinced of it. I am saying that a lawyer should do an honest, sincere due diligence before defending him in a court of law as not guilty.
Courts go by the evidence on record. The strength of that evidence determines the outcome of the trial. (In India, evidence itself can be tampered with.) Legal arguments are ‘technical’ in nature. They do not necessarily establish truth all the time. Guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and most jurisprudences apply a very liberal interpretation of the word “reasonable”.
Under these circumstances, what is a lawyer to do when he knows, in his heart of hearts, that his client is guilty, but also knows that since the evidence against him is weak, an acquittal can be secured? I am saying that the lawyer should not take up the client’s case, or, if he does take it up, then may do so only to plead guilty and to try and secure a lenient sentence.
Contrariwise, what is a lawyer to do when he knows that his client is innocent but the evidence against him is overwhelmingly strong? He must work in the best interest of his client, and that might mean pleading guilty as well.
I can see that this holds if a moral perspective of the Gandhian kind is the benchmark. But I’m still not convinced that the professional ethic of the legal profession in India adopts such a lofty benchmark. Perhaps you would help us along by referring us to an authoritative source.
Prosecution Lawyer: The job of PL is to present evidence, witnesses and explain circumstances under which a criminal act happened. All this, with a view to prove the guilt of the accused.
Defence Lawyer: The job of DL is to examine evidence, cross-examine witnesses, explain circumstance and perhaps also to present witnesses and evidence. All this, with a view to establish either “reasonable doubt” or complete innocense of the accused.
State/Police: To investigate a criminal act, find evidence and witnesses so as to find and apprehend those like to have committed the crime. Then, with the help of PL, to prepare a case against the accused.
Judge(s): To examine all the facts presented before them, to listen to both sides and then to pronounce a judgement.
Rather than the DL to convince himself of the client’s innocense, it the PL and the Police who have to convince themselves of the person’s guilt so as to be able to present him as an “accused”. It is the PL and Police’s job to prepare a foolproof case against the accused. The DL’s job, in a way, is to pick holes in such a case – whether technical, procedural or factual.
It is not the DL’s job to act on something he “knows” is his “heart of hearts”. He *must* act in his client’s best interests. If he knows that he can get his client free because of poor investigation, he *must* do exactly that.
Now assume that a criminal gets acquitted and then goes on to commit more crimes. Whose responsibility is that? It is the responsibility (in a moral sense) of PL and/or the Polie, not of the DL.
If the DLs were to start sitting in judgement on their clients, the criminal justice system would not work.
Typo: “those like to have” read as “those likely to have”.
“Perhaps you would help us along by referring us to an authoritative source.”
Nitin, we’re just having a conversation, so it’s unfair to demand that I justify my opinions with academic rigor.
Does what I say make sense to you? I do not see my views as constituting a lofty benchmark. I do not believe that one’s profession entitles one to gloss over moral/ethical questions that one otherwise is, as a responsible citizen and human being, expected not to give short shrift to.
POTA had a clause that anybody possessing information on terrorists or terrorist activities had an obligation to disclose it to law-enforcement. Journalists hit the streets claiming that POTA jeopardized their profession since “sources” would not talk if their identity was not kept secret. Journalists also claimed that an implicit contract of confidentiality obtained between them and their sources. They demanded that they be excluded from that POTA clause. The government didn’t agree. We don’t agree either, do we? We don’t agree because we know that journalists’ responsibilities as journalists do not supercede their resposnsibilites as citizens.
The same principle applies to ALL professions. The first commitment of a lawyer, like of any of us, ought to be to *justice*. His obligation to the client comes only next.
I looked up Bar Council of India code of conduct for lawyers, and here is the result:
“He must also defend a person accused of a crime, regardless of his personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused ….”
“Though a lawyer has the duty to represent his client to the best of his ability, he should not neglect the fact that his loyalty is to the law. ”
So Jethmalani is on the right side of the code, but the code itself sounds contradictory to me.
Yes, it is all in the spirit of conversation. My comment was not to challenge you to produce something with academic rigour, but rather, test your opinion against an authoritative source, to seek facts that can inform opinions. [The tagline of this blog is ‘the education of an opinionated mind’].
Thank you for that bit of research, that should leave us all the wiser.
â€œThough a lawyer has the duty to represent his client to the best of his ability, he should not neglect the fact that his loyalty is to the law.â€
It simply means that the lawyer should not violate the law while defending his client – like producing fake evidence or false witnesses etc. It does not mean that lawyers should sit in judgement over their clients. It has no contradiction with â€œHe must also defend a person accused of a crime, regardless of his personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused â€¦.â€
Nitin, you are right in assuming that professional ethic of the legal profession in India does not adopt Gandhian ideals of the legal profession. Of course, some lawyers may do so in a personal capacity but the Code of Conduct itself does not put any responsibility on them to do so.
When we put the such responsibility on the defence lawyers, we are effectively just shielding shoddy investigation and prosecution.
I recently seen that some of the people supporting Ram decision on the basis that He has right to defend Manu. Ram argue on the basis that Every body has right to get proper defend and according to his professional oath he must defend his client. Very well but let me put a question to you.
Are you defending somebody because he is innocense? or defending because he is your client. Becasue I dont think Professional Oath says you should defend person because he is your client and use whatever means possible to prove a criminal as innocense.
Now who will say person is innocense? We can argue its on court to decide? well we already have seen that prviously on many occassion court has faile terribally in this. What about Santosh sing (killer of Priyadershani?) he got aquitted. was he innocense? No due to media pressure on retrial it was proven that he was not? So even judeciarry have to accept that they were wrong many many time.
Anyway back to Ram Jeth Manali? Well are he trying to prove Manu innocense because he is? No he is using his skills and all the loophole to prove him innocense by defaming Jessica, by putting kahani main twist and by using his high profile connection to get manu out. It is getting more clear day by day by his action. And he has no right to prove a ciminal as innocense. If manu is innocense Ram jethmanali do not require to play games with judiciary system and does not need to give so many different statment in court.. from shikh man to manhood…
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