India’s legal community recently received a huge but not entirely unforeseen surprise when veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani announced his retirement at the age of 94.
Jethmalani made the announcement at a Bar Council of India (BCI) event held to commemorate the appointment of the new chief justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra. The nonagenarian said he would devote his time to fighting corruption in the country.
“With the retirement of Ram, an era comes to an end and we are witnessing the retirement of a man who dominated the practice of criminal law for over 50 years,” said RN Karanjawala, the managing partner at Karanjawala & Co.
Karanjawala said Jethmalani inspired an entire generation of criminal law practitioners, and he found him to be warm, friendly and kind-hearted in his personal interactions. “He is essentially young at heart, the years always sat very lightly on his shoulders.”
Lalit Bhasin, the president of the Society of Indian Law Firms, said Jethmalani continued to have a tremendous impact on the legal profession. “I have interacted with him since 1973 till the present day on a continuous basis, either in courts or in conferences/seminars, or in law schools. It was due to his order as the BCI chairman that I was declared elected as the chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi, when he dismissed an election petition challenging my election.”
Bhasin said Jethmalani was unlikely to retire in the full sense of the word. “He may probably refuse to accept briefs from the rich and the famous, but would still fight for justice for the underprivileged.”
Zia Mody, the managing partner at AZB & Partners, also had kind words for Jethmalani. “Ram is one of a kind,” she said. “There will be very few like him in the coming generations. His charm, wit and genius presence of mind is beyond debate. His kindness to juniors is also legendary.”
Jethmalani was a part of pivotal moments in history, fighting cases that captured the popular imagination. Some of the more well known people he represented are senior BJP leader LK Advani, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Tamil Nadu chief minister, the late J Jayalalithaa, and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad.
Jethmalani is also an MP in the upper house of parliament. He had previously served as law minister and urban development minister under former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004).