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Nov 20, 2006 at 01:07am IST

Devil's Advocate: Ram Jethmalani

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. In taking on Manu Sharma’s case, has Ram Jethmalani betrayed his principles and more importantly thereafter, has he scattered all morality and ethics to the winds. Those are the two key issues I shall raise today in an exclusive interview with Ram Jethmalani.

Mr Jethmalani, for two years there has been a sign outside the gate of your residence in Delhi, which reads, ‘I am not accepting any new court matters but welcome for anything else.’ Despite that you have accepted Manu Sharma’s case. Now tell me, is the sign wrong or have you simply changed your mind?

Ram Jethmalani: I have not changed my mind. I took up Manu Sharma’s case when I appeared for his bail application in the High Court, which was long before I put up the board. That is an old case and besides, I make promises to myself that I want to. It is my right to take up any case I like.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely! No one denies it. But the nature of the connection is so tenuous that it sounds like an excuse to me.

Ram Jethmalani: No, I am so sorry. You are no judge of it. I know why I take up a particular case. I have some obligations to some people.

Karan Thapar: What sort of obligations?

Ram Jethmalani: The obligation to defend a person against an undeserved, vicious onslaught by the media, which is subverting criminal justice and the whole criminal justice process.

Karan Thapar: You mean to say, the media and the media’s treatment towards Manu Sharma has made you defend Manu Sharma. In other words, if the media hadn’t characterised Manu Sharma the way they have, you wouldn’t have defended him?

Ram Jethmalani: I probably may not have.

Karan Thapar: You mean you have been entirely provoked by newspaper articles?

Ram Jethmalani: Many of the vicious articles and the vicious kind of propaganda that is going on.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you Kamini Jaiswal, an associate of yours for 30 years. Few people know you better. She says and I am quoting: “Jethmalani has publicly said he has retired and will appear only in matters when the larger national interest is at stake. How on earth is the national interest involved in this case?”

Ram Jethmalani: The preservation of the purity of the judicial process and particularly the criminal justice system is a matter of greatest national importance. Otherwise, one day you will be in jail and nobody will defend you.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, you are exaggerating by use of pompous language a simple case. There is nothing of national interest involved in the Manu Sharma case.

Ram Jethmalani: If there was no national interest involved, you would not be interviewing me here this evening and you are wasting your time.

Karan Thapar: I will tell you why I am interviewing you. Because I have a suspicion that Ram Jethmalani picks cases to attract attention to himself and to create controversy. It is publicity he is seeking.

Ram Jethmalani: I normally try and avoid people and avoid meeting people.

Karan Thapar: Normally? Just look at the people that you have defended - Haji Mastan, Balbir Singh, Kehar Singh, Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parikh, Lalu Yadav and now Manu Sharma.

Ram Jethmalani: What are you talking about, Mr Thapar? You are taking about Mastan, I defended 50 years ago.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. That’s what I am saying. For 50 years, you sought publicity. You are doing it again with Manu Sharma.

Ram Jethmalani: So what are you talking about? Naturally, in 50 years I have defended five persons you have mentioned, so what?

Karan Thapar: Do you know what your critics say? They say he is using Manu Sharma to build a career that is flagging. He is reviving a legal career that has ended by using and misusing Manu Sharma.

Ram Jethmalani: If you believe that foolish thing, it only reflects on your intelligence.

Karan Thapar: You are very welcome to criticise, in fact, be abusive of me. The point is that it’s not a defense of the question that I am asking you.

PAGE_BREAK

Ram Jethmalani: You are being abusive and I am trying to be polite because you are sitting in my house. You have no right to abuse the interviewee either. You are using a language, which no interviewer should use. I would have turned you out of my house, but for the fact that you are my friend and guest.

Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that what I am asking is probably niggling you. I am saying that you choose cases and you choose clients to promote yourself.

Ram Jethmalani: I refuse to be needled by a person like you. You are too small to needle me, for God’s sake!

Karan Thapar: And in which case, why get angry? Why get upset? Why you lose temper?

Ram Jethmalani: I am not upset. I am giving you a reply to your silly questions.

Karan Thapar: All I am doing is being Devil’s Advocate. You are behaving as if you have got the devil in front of you. Calm down! Calm down!

Ram Jethmalani: Don’t expect me to calm down when you are crossing all limits of an interviewer.

Karan Thapar: Then let me cross one more. I want to talk to you about the manner in which you are defending Manu Sharma. Is it moral, fitting and proper that you should defend Manu Sharma by casting aspersions on the character of Jessica Lal, a woman who is dead and cannot defend herself.

Ram Jethmalani: I go by the record of the case. And please read this. I have not invented this. This is an exhibit number 47 upon DA at the trial. I am an appellate lawyer. I have not appeared in the trial court. Now, please read this to the viewers.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, I am well aware of what you are showing me. You are showing me an article from The Pioneer dated May 5, 1999. Just because a newspaper published an allegation….

Ram Jethmalani: First you will have to tell your viewers the headline of this newspaper. Tell them that this is an exhibit and also tell them that the story which is now being attributed to me is a part of the record of the case from 1999.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. This headline, as you insist should be read out says, ‘Passion not liquor behind murder.’ The problem is this: neither the headline nor your reputation if it can be proven. You probably know that it is not true. Your casting aspersions by using it, and I am saying to you that in doing so, you are betraying your principles and your morality.

Ram Jethmalani: Who the hell are you to talk like this? Thapar, you are journalist and a television interviewer. What right have you assumed, this kind of importance, that you decide what can be proved and what can’t be proved? It is for the judges to decide after hearing me.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Jessica Lall is dead. She cannot defend herself and you have no compunction in flinging baseless acquisitions to malign her character. Do you realise that you are damaging a woman, who is innocent?

Ram Jethmalani: It’s unfortunate. In the first place I have not made any acquisitions against her character. Such an allegation was made by a colleague of mine.

Karan Thapar: You are repeating it. And by repeating it, you are giving it credence, you are giving it credibility and you are giving it popularity. Is that fair?

Ram Jethmalani: Please tell the people what I have said in that letter.

Karan Thapar: You are going back to a point that we have already done. Let me point out to you, as a criminal lawyer, you have every right to use every trick in the book. I put you a moral question. Are there no standards you won’t fall below?

Ram Jethmalani: First of all, please do not degrade the judicial system, by calling it a trick. It is not a trick of advocacy. It is a fair argument presented in open court to the judges for their appraisal.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, I am asking you a simple question. Are there no standards that you set yourself, which you observe? Is there noLaxman-rekha your own personal morality demands that you respect? Will you do anything? Will you fall to any level?

Ram Jethmalani: I will not do anything, but I will do everything legitimate and honourable to defend my client. That is precisely what I am doing and you have no right to make comments upon what I am doing. That is a matter between the court and me.

Karan Thapar: You have no conscience about the fact that you have maligned the reputation of a dead woman, who can’t defend herself?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. You can go on repeating it for a hundred times, if you like. I have cast no aspersions on her character. On the contrary, I have given her some character. I hope she deserves it.

Karan Thapar: You have given her some character you hope she deserves it?

Ram Jethmalani: Yes. You are the one who is now maligning her.

PAGE_BREAK

Karan Thapar: That is heartless and cruel. You claim that you are giving her character?

Ram Jethmalani: Oh, come on. Doesn’t matter. I am trying to give her a character by my argument.

Karan Thapar: You have answered as you think fit the questions about Jessica. The audience will judge whether they agree with you or not. Let’s change that subject now. Let me now come to Bina Ramani and the Ramani family.

In the case of the Ramanis, you have publicly suggested that Tamarind Court was a bordello and that they knowingly gave false evidence under pressure. You know it is not true, yet you said it.

Ram Jethmalani: Now, don’t make a bordello argument. It is a bordello argument. I have not used the word bordello anywhere.

Karan Thapar: I am quoting to you what you said, “other kinds of activities.” What are the kinds of activities are we talking about? Making cakes? Brewing tea?

Ram Jethmalani: It is a rendezvous.

Karan Thapar: A rendezvous! What a delightful euphemism?

Ram Jethmalani: It is a rendezvous for people to meet, people to go after the party is over. And the people will judge what they were for.

Karan Thapar: So, now the people will judge? You see, you are wiggling out of it with euphemism.

Ram Jethmalani: No, I am sorry. I am not wiggling out of it.

Karan Thapar: You haven’t even got the courage to stand by the insinuations that you have been levelling.

Ram Jethmalani: I have said in open court and I will say it again in open court tomorrow. If you want to hear it come again and hear it, that the motive, that she was killed because somebody was refused a little bit of whisky is a preposterous motive.

Karan Thapar: That’s right. You then went on to say that she was killed for what she had and didn’t give. And we all know what you are suggesting.

Let me pause and come back to Bina Ramani. You have known Bina Ramani for decades. She has dined with you and she has stayed with you. In the ’80’s, you fought and won custody of her children for her. You know better than anyone else that she is not what you are claiming and suggesting she is. Yet, you are knowingly misrepresenting a woman.

Ram Jethmalani: What have I claimed? What have I said earlier?

Karan Thapar: That she claimed false evidence in court. That she was running a suggestive bordello.

Ram Jethmalani: That is exactly what you are putting in somebody else’s mouth and misrepresenting to your viewers. What I have said is that she is an honest woman, who was pressurised…

Karan Thapar: Very interesting that the word ‘honest’. We never heard before. You have suddenly wheeled it into the conversation.

Ram Jethmalani: Now, please! If you want to carry on with this interview, then sit and listen properly like a gentleman. Don’t behave like as if I am sitting in your studio. Please don’t take those liberties.

All that I have said is, on the contrary, this poor woman was pressurised by the police to speak some lies to please them and to get out of the trouble, which they were creating for her. And in court, she had the conscience to stand up and not stick to those lies.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, I gave you an opportunity to correct what you said, to perhaps change your wording and to change the meaning, you have a right to. As a lawyer, you have a right to present your case in a good or bad way.

Ram Jethmalani: Who the hell do you think you are? You are a court and I am presenting my case to you?

Karan Thapar: Let me point out something else. You have frequently been to Tamarind as a customer.

Ram Jethmalani: I have seen Tamarind Court.

Karan Thapar: You have been there several times as a customer.

Ram Jethmalani: I have seen Tamarind Court once.

Karan Thapar: Several times you have been to Tamarind Court. Several times you have been to Tamarind Court. You have been seen by people in Tamarind Court and you have been to Tamarind Court to even ask for drinks when drinks weren’t available.

Ram Jethmalani: No. No. No.

PAGE_BREAK

Karan Thapar: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Ram Jethmalani: You are speaking the falsehood. Somebody else told you this and you are trying to just speak some muck.

Karan Thapar: Can I put something to you?

Ram Jethmalani: Yes.

Karan Thapar: The worst, rudest possible question, and, I apologise, but it is the sad truth, I suspect.

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry then. I had told you, Karan, that I set the ground rules for this interview. I will refuse to answer any further questions from you if you still persist on asking the same old question because you want to put it in different words so many times.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, I am asking you with an apology because I hesitate. Are you lying to defend Manu Sharma? Are you knowingly lying?

Ram Jethmalani: Now, if you don’t know this much about the judicial system that lawyers don’t lie... It is clients who lie and witnesses who lie, but the lawyer doesn’t speak a personal lie. Am I a witness in the case?

You don’t even know the elements of criminal law. You don’t know elements of our judicial system and you call yourself a great, great, BBC correspondent and all.

Karan Thapar: You are indulging in an innuendo, libel and irrelevant concern. You are besmirching an innocent woman’s character.

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. If we have more persons in this media, I think, media deserves to be pitied.

Karan Thapar: You have every right to malign the media, because at the moment the media is pointing out that you have fallen from your own high standard.

Ram Jethmalani: I am not maligning the media, I am maligning you, the representative of the media.

Karan Thapar: Can I point something to you? People are speculating why you asked Justice Sodhi to recuse himself. They are saying that he probably did it to put the judge on the defensive, to thus force the judge to try and appear as impartial as he could, and thus get away with irrelevance, libel and innuendo.

Ram Jethmalani: I did it because another member of the media, with whom you are probably associated, made an insinuation as if I had selected that court and I wanted to give an opportunity to the court: a) to say that I had nothing to do with the selection of the court and b) I will be very happy if the court doesn’t hear it.

Karan Thapar: Let me end this part with two critical questions. I have accused you, and I am using the word accused, of deliberately spreading falsehood about a woman, who cannot defend herself.

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. I will not answer that question. I have answered it 10 times. I have told you that it is a matter of record.

Karan Thapar: Do you have no conscience of yourself?

Ram Jethmalani: no, I am sorry. You have no conscience and you are not a gentleman.

Karan Thapar: Maybe, but do you have no conscience?

Ram Jethmalani: No, I won’t answer this question. I will not allow you even to utter it. If you utter it any further, I will stop this.

Karan Thapar: I am asking a different question. They used to say of Ram Jethmalani that he was a champion of justice.

Ram Jethmalani: I am a champion of justice.

Karan Thapar: Now, they are saying that he is trickster, he is a man without scruples.

Ram Jethmalani:Now don’t utter such stupid words and this interview is, therefore, terminated. I didn’t call you here to utter this kind of abusive language. Please stop it. If you don’t stop it, I will just walk out. OK?

Karan Thapar: Do you regret the collapse in your standard?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry. I regret the collapse of the character of people like you that you try to please some people and you are here to please them and not conduct a legitimate gentlemanly interview.

Karan Thapar: If I am asking questions that are so preposterous, why are you losing your temper?

Ram Jethmalani: I must lose my temper. I am entitled to lose my temper.

Karan Thapar: Why must you?

Ram Jethmalani: I am entitled to lose my temper

PAGE_BREAK

Karan Thapar: Is it another gimmick? Is it another trick? Is this how Ram Jethmalani attracts attention to himself?

Ram Jethmalani: I do not like this kind of impertinence of even Mr Karan Thapar, whoever he thinks he is.

Karan Thapar: What if there is truth behind the impertinence?

Ram Jethmalani: It doesn’t matter. You go and tell it to others.

Karan Thapar: What if I have touched a raw nerve in saying that you are deliberately spreading libel and innuendo?

Ram Jethmalani: You go on talking bullshit and continue that bullshit. I am totally impervious. Please think that I am not listening to you now.

Karan Thapar: Do you have a clear heart and a clean conscience?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry, I won’t answer this.

Karan Thapar: You won’t answer it? In other words, you won’t incriminate yourself.

Ram Jethmalani: I have a conscience which many people will be proud of and I am sure that you don’t possess even a fraction of that conscience.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jethmalani, is it your case that criminal advocacy entails casting aspersions on people’s characters, and it entails spreading doubt even though ordinary human beings would believe there is no room for doubt whatsoever?

Ram Jethmalani: Criminal advocacy does involve opening up people’s past to find out whether they are reliable, whether they have motivations to speak lies and whether their character is such that should inspire confidence.

Karan Thapar: Even with what I called lies. I called them lies and repeat the word again.

Ram Jethmalani: You are nobody to call them lies.

Karan Thapar: You know they are. You personally know the people you are maligning.

Ram Jethmalani: I wish journalists like you had been given some judicial powers, and fortunately for the society that is not so yet.

Karan Thapar: I am saying the opposite. I am saying that a lawyer of your upstanding character should have thrown up his hands and said enough is enough. I will defend the accused, but I will only do it in an honourable and acceptable way. I won’t libel.

Ram Jethmalani: Mr Karan Thapar, I am so sorry that you are so silly. I have not even appeared in the trial court. I am arguing the matter on record created by some other lawyer. You should know this. You should at least know what the role of an appellate lawyer is. I am arguing on a record, which has come to me in my hands. I have done nothing of that type. I am only reading the record.

Karan Thapar: But the point I am making is a simple one. There may be many things in papers that you have alleged have been published. You are using them as your defence, but do you have to fall so low to use every dirty trick. That’s the point I am making. Are there no principles that you uphold? The morality you observe.

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry, Karan. You are taking advantage of my hospitality. You are in my house that’s why I don’t want to tell you that. You are falling to low of every kind of standard of morals of an anchor and a television interviewer. You are taking advantage of the fact that you are in my house and that you are my guest. Otherwise, I would throw out somebody here.

Karan Thapar: Maybe and that will be your prerogative. But I repeat my question again.

Ram Jethmalani: You can go on repeating. But I will not answer it any more. If you go on repeating, I will not answer.

Karan Thapar: Mr Ram Jethmalani, people believe that you were a champion of justice...

Ram Jethmalani: I am a champion of justice. But justice doesn’t mean what you think of justice, justice is what the judges think of it and what I think of it, not you.

Karan Thapar: Do you regret the collapse in your standing and you reputation in the eyes of the Indian people today?

Ram Jethmalani: You don't know, perhaps you know and you are hiding it or concealing it. You don’t want to acknowledge it that even on that day, on the television interview, they counted the people who supported me and 80 per cent of the people said that Mr Jethmalani is right in what he is doing.

PAGE_BREAK

Karan Thapar: Forgive me. Can I correct and interrupt? They were supporting your right to defend Manu Sharma, I am not questioning that. I am now questioning the morality of the defence you are putting up, the ethics. You know what you are saying is untrue, but you are saying it nonetheless.

Ram Jethmalani: I know the ethics of my profession better than any journalist like you does. Please stop this kind of an argument, because I will not allow you to judge the morality of my actions. I am responsible to the court, to the profession and to the Bar Council, not you.

Karan Thapar: Mahatma Gandhi said that means are more important than ends, are you telling me that in the law, it's the other way round?

Ram Jethmalani: Not at all. But I am doing much better than Mahatma Gandhi in this case, I assure you.

Karan Thapar: You may be correct…

Ram Jethmalani: I am correct, there is no maybe correct.

Karan Thapar: But in the process, one thing you had you lost is your good name. Does it not matter to you?

Ram Jethmalani: I am sorry, it does not matter to me at all that I have lost my good name, judged by some people who are bad. Bad people will always judge me wrong, so it’s all right.

Karan Thapar: Your son is dismayed and disillusioned. Kamini Jaiswal, who has worked with you for 30 years, is also dismayed and disillusioned. Does it not matter to you?

Ram Jethmalani: It does not matter at all. My pity to them and my sympathy for them that they are doing something wrong. As I said, "Oh, Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Karan Thapar: Jessica Lall's reputation is in your hands. She is a helpless girl who is dead. You are destroying it and you know you are doing it willfully. Is that not immoral?

Ram Jethmalani: You are going on repeating this bullshit… Repeated bullshit does not become wisdom. So, you go ahead and by all means, go on telling me this.

Karan Thapar: Repeated defiance is not wisdom either. That’s just obscenity.

Ram Jethmalani:It is. Defiance based on character and conscience is always desirable.

Karan Thapar: Are you a man of character? Is this the behaviour of a man of character?

Ram Jethmalani: Please do not get into this kind of bullshit, this is not done. This is not the way of holding an interview.

Karan Thapar: When there is almost a smile on your face and I am not sure if it is a smile or not, it's time for me to apologise for all the impertinence and to thank you for the interview.

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