OPINION

The Plight of the Criminal Lawyer - Jethmalani Defends Sharma and Faces Flak

November 05, 2006
Shantanu Dutta

I have been reading John Grisham's book The Chamber which has as its focus the validity of the death penalty. The principal character in the book is Sam Cayhall, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and one who by ideology hated blacks, catholics and jews and every body else except the White Anglo Saxon Protestant. In his time Sam has killed many blacks and jews and as the book opens is facing the death sentence for one of his crimes. All his appeals and pleas have been rejected and he is more or less biding his time waiting for the gas chamber when his grandson, a young and inexperienced lawyer who hates his grandfather's ideology but feels compassion for the old man, takes up the case amidst sneers, jeers and opposition from his own peers.

Half way through the book, I put it aside to ponder over the fate and destiny of the criminal lawyer - the man who for a fee defends people whom some times society has already branded as deserving of death or long spells of imprisonment. I ran into the interview that Ram Jethmalani gave to CNN-IBN after he decided to defend Manu Sharma in the Jessica Lal murder case. Now this is a case where there has been a lot of media attention and looking at all that has been said about Manu Sharma that is available in the public domain, it would appear that opinion is already made up that Sharma is guilty and his acquittal happened just because most or all of the witnesses turned hostile. Naturally, there is a lot of anger around what happened in the case and the fact that Sharma got acquitted.

But does that mean that in the subsequent trial that is now happening, he does not have the right to represented by a lawyer?

Some of these same issues are addressed in Grisham's novel. Sam Cayhall has been convicted of a crime in which he was involved in the planting of bombs in the office of a Jewish lawyer. Accidentally, the lawyer's two young sons get killed. The trials initially took place in a climate when people looked the other way when blacks got killed and anti semitism was okay. But years later, the climate has changed and blacks are now called African-Americans, the Jews are well connected and the governor and the political establishment want to make a statement by executing a man who every one now loves to hate.

Another concern raised by Grisham in his book which is also of relevance to us is the matter of the death penalty. Just because a man has been convicted of killing someone, is it appropriate for the state to retaliate in kind and kill in return? What are the ethics of death when it is sanctioned and carried out by the state? Does something which is otherwise considered wrong suddenly become justifiable when carried out by the government? But that is another story.

Meanwhile Adam Hall in The Chamber and Ram Jethmalani in real life show us that it is tough to earn your living as a criminal lawyer defending what the public considers is indefensible. But all in all, for all of Jethmalani's devil may care language, I admire him and his guts. Because even people whom society considers scum have the right to the services of a lawyer and a capable one like Ram Jethmalani in their darkest hours. Then in spite of every effort, when they are still sentenced to death, we can hold our head high as a civilized state where the criminal is given every chance and not condemned to death only by the dictat of the media or a blood thirsty public.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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The Plight of the Criminal Lawyer - Jethmalani Defends Sharma and Faces Flak

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Author: Shantanu Dutta

 

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#1
Sujatha
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November 5, 2006
12:14 PM

Because even people whom society considers scum have the right to the services of a lawyer and a capable one like Ram Jethmalani in their darkest hours. Then in spite of every effort, when they are still sentenced to death, we can hold our head high as a civilized state where the criminal is given every chance and not condemned to death only by the dictat of the media or a blood thirsty public.

Well said.

#2
Sumanth
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November 5, 2006
01:25 PM

Now, Criminal Lawyers want sympathy.

May be, the parliament should pass another law, "Hail the Criminal Lawyers Act 2006."

Its these criminal lawyers who ill-advise many women and their families to file false cases and they do not care when innocent elders get jailed.

Has Ram Jethamalani ever talked about Misuse of 498a? Rani Jethamalani is a staunch supporter of this law.

When heavily out of court settlement happen, the criminal lawyers get a percentage of the booty.

If innocents get killed, so what? The lawyers also make a living. Is not it?

Life is tough for every one.

#3
Evangeline
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November 6, 2006
01:29 AM

I agree that everybody has the right to be represented and even people like Manu Sharma deserved a fair chance , but Ram Jetmehlani behaved like an aggrogant spoiled petulant brat.
This is a democratic society, the media and public has the right to question what went wrong with the way the system function, the Great Ram has no right to question the media and the public when they demanded justice for Jessica.
And the Great Ram has the right to depend all the criminals that he thinks he can save from the gallows.

#4
preeti
April 22, 2007
02:55 PM

i completely agree with mr.ram.jethmalani, da media has already pronounced manu as an acuused, even before da H.C judgement, i think its unfair to manu, media has already convicted him, in the eyes of common people, he surely deserves a fair trial.

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