Here are the edited excerpts of some of the speeches delivered at the lecture. The full speeches will be serialised in the Daily Guardian.
iTV network honoured to host India’s finest legal minds
By Kartikeya Sharma
The iTV network family is honoured to be hosting some of the finest and most learned minds of India’s legal community. Those who are speaking today are a credit not only to this country but the furtherance of the cause of the justice in the world at large. Mr Mahesh Jethmalani, who’s pioneering this initiative and to all the speakers and guests including Sh. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Honourable union minister for law and justice in IT, Honourable Justice N.V. Ramada, Shri K.K. Venugopal, Shri Tushar Mehta, eminent senior lawyers Shri Fali S Nariman, Shri Soli J. Sorabjee, Shri Kapil Sibal, Shri Harish Salve, Shri Abhishek Singhvi and Shri Aryamana Sundaram. It’s a pleasure to be hosting you on our iTV network’s national English news channel NewsX network today.
India and the world, at large, has discovered the salutary and crucial role that the mainstream media plays during the difficult and challenging times as this country went into lockdown. The TV news channel became a pivotal platform for communication between government authorities and the people at large.
PM Modi recognised this role and responsibility early on in his interaction with us. During the time when tough and challenging decisions needed to be taken, journalists became frontline workers. Duty and service, before everything else, resumed their significance. Most of us worked non-stop battling the pandemic. Some in our fraternity were hit, some even paid the ultimate price. I say with pride that iTV network and it’s 11 news channels including NewsX lead the way. We even launch a daily newspaper The Daily Guardian to further the efforts to provide news and opinions to you all. Public interest in iconic investigations and court cases has been ever present. The Nanavati case was one such to shake the foundation of our legal system in many ways. Recent times have challenged our ethos again. The media, which is both a parameter and a public court of opinion, should be as open to introspection of its scope and role on what is beneficial and what is delirious.
I am glad that some of India’s finest jurists will today be shining the mirror back at us. We hope to weigh and absorb the wise words; the call to service and the cogent advice they have to offer that we do this in tribute to Ram Jethmalani, India’s legendary jurist is fitting gravitas.
Have sterling nostalgic memories of Ram Jethmalani
By Ravi Shankar Prasad
Excerpts from Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s speech at the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture: I would like to recall my sterling nostalgic memories of Ram Jethmalani. The very first was as young student activist in the JP movement of Bihar, subsequently fighting the emergency. We learned about the proud leadership of three eminent lawyers of India. Mr. Nariman resigned his post of additional Solicitor general in protest. Mr. Nani Palkhivala returned the brief of India Gandhi’s election commission. Mr. Soli Sorabjee led the bar of Mumbai in protest. All there is stunning events for us of inspiration and then we learned that Mr. Ram Jethmalani has left his practice in India, gone to USA and started campaigning against the injustice of emergency and also teaching there.
These great memories of those trying times, which were inspiring even for us, remains in my memory. Thereafter, we learned more of him in profession when I became a lawyer in the Patna High court. I used to assist him in some cases in Supreme Court. Then, we became closer when both of us became ministers in the Vajpayee government. Thereafter, when I shifted my law practice in Supreme Court in 2004, we had occasion to work together apart from being parliamentary colleagues. But today, I’d like to tell one aspect of his personality. I asked him, “Ram, how did you cope with struggle of partition?
All the way getting uprooted from Pakistan, you came to Mumbai.” He honestly told me, “Ravi, I had come with Rs 10 in my pocket but with an ambition and a vision.”
Becoming a top lawyer of the country, outstanding and parallel in the criminal positional law in many ways, a man of extraordinary conviction, an outstanding parliamentarian and above all, a friend of friend. If I can say one line in Hindi Mahesh, “Ram apne asulu pe zindagi jiye” and he always held those commitments very dearly. Those qualities, when we see today to take up the challenge, I can tell you today his ten questions before controversy disturbed the nation.
I remember he had come to address the young students in Patna. A big hall of 5000 people was packed and what a public address he gave. I thought he was only a good speaker in English but the powerful speech he delivered in Hindi was indeed very important.
Therefore, all the great friends from Pali to Soli, will talk about his legal career and also the privilege to oppose him in the Supreme Court, assist him in the Supreme Court and also work together in some cases of Supreme Court.
Apart from Parliament and ministership, I would always say his persona as a public leader was no less than an eminent lawyer. Therefore today, I pay my great homage to the great work you are doing Mahesh. You have all the potential to skill the same height, which your father achieved. I know for sure. Lots you have already achieved. So enjoy these blessings, carry forward his legacy.
On the topic, I will not say anything except to make one comment. That the investigation should be fair is also the expectation of the people. When we talk of openness, when we talk of people of India getting more enlightened, there is also a stake of the people of India in a fair investigation. How to balance the two is a difficult question but the balance has to be achieved. That is all I have to say. With these words, I pay my profound homage to the extraordinary soul Ram Jethmalani, whose legacy is going to remain an important cherished part of both the legal profession and our public life. Thank you.
Trial by media has stirred debate, controversy
By Mahesh Jethmalani’s
Excerpts from Sr. Adv. Mahesh Jethmalani’s speech at the 1st Ram Jethmalani annual lecture: Ladies and gentlemen, the Ram Jethmalani memorial has been conceived with the object of promoting not just excellence at the bar, but also to foster a passion and lawyer and layman alike for what our constitution and laws ultimately strive for i.e. Justice.
The endeavor of the series is also to present the most informed opinions on a burning issue of the day. A vital aspect of justice in the criminal sphere is a fair investigation and a fair trial. On several occasions in the not so distant past, trial by media has stirred a debate and controversy. The past few weeks have witnessed a raging storm in both the social and electronic media about the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The media has weighed in with varying shades of opinion regarding the causes and surroundings circumstances of the actor’s death. Sometimes proffering evidence, which even the investigating authorities seem not to have gathered. Does this parallel investigation by the media in full public glare rebound in the interests of justice?
Where is the line to be drawn between laudable investigative journalism and a manifest witch-hunt? Does the media believe in justice or in simply taking a position and depicting it as just?
Today’s panel of speakers will undoubtedly share their imminent views on the issue. On behalf of the organisers of today’s first lecture of the series, it gives me great pleasure to extend the warmest welcome to our distinguished panel of guests, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad- Honorable minister for law and justice and IT, Honorable Supreme Court Justice NV Ramana, Shri KK Venugopal-Attorney general of India, Shri Tushar Mehta-Solicitor general of India.
Legendary members of the bar and great friends of my father, Shri Fali Sam Nariman and Soli Sorabjee. All of them shared a long association with my father and have very kindly consented to say a few words in his memory. I extend an equally warm welcome to the very best of my contemporaries at the bar, who not withstanding their many preoccupations, have consented to be speakers on today’s occasion. Viewers cannot but profit from their presentations today. It would not be out of place to mention finally that both privately and on social media, I have received a string of messages not just complementing me for organising this lecture, but more for having gathered a panel of such outstanding guests and speakers on one platform.
I must add that when I approached each one of them, they accepted my invitation without the slightest hesitation. That by itself is perhaps the best tribute to the moving spirit behind this lecture series. I am sure that wherever he is, he will be leaning with pride with glass of you know what in hand at this very evident acknowledgment of his legacy.
Finally, an overwhelming thank you to NewsX and The Sunday Guardian foundation for not only telecasting this event live but for the relentless publicity campaign that preceded it. Thank you.
Indira Gandhi wanted ram deported
By Soli Sorabjee
Excerpts from Sr. Adv. Soli Sorabjee speech at the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture:
We used to meet at the hill station of Nameshwar, and go to a hotel. Ram would order various dishes in his own way, to the complete consternation of the waiters. He’d be joking and laughing away, not at all concerned, but a man who enjoyed life, who enjoyed beauty. Ram was fond of a nice scotch and soda. He also liked feminine beauty. One exception was Mrs Gandhi. He could not stand Mrs Gandhi and she wanted him deported.
That resulted in him going abroad, but the thing is, when he was abroad, he would send tons of messages from there. “I’ll do this, I’ll do that”, but as someone said, you can’t describe Ram in three words or sentences. He was a different kind of person. There were different qualities in him. He would charge heavy fees from people who wanted his services, there’s no question about it.
He was a man who was hounded by executives, but when he would be approached by someone, he would defend them without fee or charge. Not only that, After he had succeeded in a case, he would present the client with a book or a bottle of wine. That was Ram.
Ram Jethmalani is someone, who is really indescribable. He was one who admired differences, but never bitterness. He never allowed for bitterness. He was large-hearted, warm-hearted, and I was very sorry to hear when he passed away. I had wanted to be there, but it couldn’t happen. Ram Jethmalani will always be remembered by people, who believe in fighting oppression and fighting authority, in taking on forces where peace is the matter of concern, and that is what made Ram immortal. Thus, Ram Jethmalani, for me, was not only a friend, but also a member of my family. I hope, sooner or later, to meet Ram in another world, so that we can sit and have arguments.
Let me just end by saying, Ram Ram Ram, may you be in the hearts and minds of people, who love freedom and justice.
Nobody could have blasted media the way Ram did
By Tushar Mehta
Excerpts from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s speech at the first Ram Jethmalani Memorial lecture series: I would only remember my days with Ram Jethmalani when I used to work with him, assist him, and in some occasions I opposed him. Ram, the name which became an adjective in his own life. A legend, a phenomena, as the learned Attorney General very rightly says – a very majestic and eloquent lawyer who acquired a unique stature not only in the bigger fraternity but also as a parliamentarian, as an educationist, as a human being. There cannot be a more befitting tribute by a great son to his great father than to start a web series, which is based on a subject that was very dear to Ram’s heart, namely- Media trial. Nobody could have blasted media the way Ram did, at the same time he was a darling of the media. That was Ram Jethmalani. He was a bundle of these contradictions, which makes him a great lawyer, human being, parliamentarian, politician. Ram fought institutional corruption with full commitment and also appeared to defend people accused of corruption with equal amount of commitment. That was Ram Jethmalani. The first was a cause for him; the second was a professional duty for him for which his commitment level was no less and no more. But why I admire him the most is because there was no mystery surrounding Ram’s life and that makes him a distinct human being.
Ram was a man of many parts
By Kapil Sibal
Excerpts from speech of Sr. Adv. Kapil Sibal at the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture: When I think of Ram, I think of a man of many parts. His forensic abilities, his affable disposition, his love for life and literature, and the most important of all- his ability to stand alone, were some of his great qualities. He was passionate about free speech. But, he also saw its pitfalls when applying it to the context of constitutionally protected freedoms. He believed in the rule of law, and not in the rule of diktats by men.
This is a subject that was very very close to his heart. And I start off by quoting him when in 2010, he said, “Of late, the media acts as the court, passes judgement even before the court, pronounces its verdict. Trial by media is nothing but breach of law. It demands contempt of the court.” I’m also reminded of the words of the Mahatma when he said, and I quote, “The press is called the 4th estate. It is definitely a power, but to misuse that power is criminal.”
Now, we’re talking about the pros and cons of the trial by the media in a very different context because the nature of the medium has changed. In the new media, technology plays a very great role in terms of its reach and its influence- and I’m talking in the context of mainstream media that influences both constructive and destructive. And when we come to social media, we move through a jungle of words and images. The social media provides space for believers and non-believers, we hear wise voices and the destructive voices of demolition squads. We don’t know what is true, and what is fake. No one knows better. These platforms provide choices, but in that terrain, it is difficult to make a choice.
All communication mediums, and all technology have the potential of both that is both beneficial, and is liable to misuse. But the contours of that use, must be clearly defined and demarcated. There’s always a Laxman Rekha to be drawn in respect of all human activity. History of the world has shown that no society is bereft of crime, and of criminals. And it is the rich and the powerful who often perpetuate crimes, murder, rape, molestation, financial frauds, co-operate frauds, and other crimes-whether they are in government or outside government. And, the job of the fourth estate is to unearth executive excesses and corruption, and of course criminal activity protected by the state, apart from unearthing criminal activity in the society. And, the media, whatever its form is, is an indispensable tool to ensure one, detection of crime, two, expose protection of criminals by the rich and the powerful, three, unearth facts and bring them in the public domain, four, build pressure that investigation is commenced, and further expose attempts by agencies to protect the accused.
Now, there are three stages of a trial. It starts with the discovery of facts, which we call an investigation. It ends up in a chargesheet, and ultimately pursues a trial in a conviction. Now, at the stage of investigation, at the stage of the discovery of facts, the media should, according to me, have a freehand, but limited to discovery only. Opinions are a matter relating to assimilation of facts, leading to prima facie inferences, and later conclusions. And, the media has done yeoman service to society in several cases. I can remember the Ruchika Girhotra Case when a 14-year-old girl was molested, ultimately she committed suicide because of the trauma of the systematic harassment, and after her complaint in particular. Finally the accused was convicted after 19 years, and it was the role of the media that led to that conviction. We had the Jessica Lal Case, we had the Priyadarshini Mattoo Case when an ACP harassed a law student, and then the victim was raped. The accused was first acquitted and the media brought fresh evidence which ultimately led to his conviction for life. We have the Nitish Katara Case, the Nirbhaya Case, and the Bijal Joshi Case.
But the problem that arises is that the media now looks upon these discoveries of facts as a way of earning TRPS, to gain an audience. They bother less about the credibility of the source. They instead try to sensationalise the event, even if it takes distortion of facts. And the fact of the matter is that the media can make a hero turn into a villain in no time at all because of its enormous power. And, media verdicts are sometimes overshadowed by court decisions. With the entry of social media platforms, the citation has nosedived further. Today, the media has reincarnated itself into a public court. The rule of presumption of innocence and guilt beyond reasonable doubt has been thrown to the wayside. The new media presumes guilt, and the victim must prove his or her innocence. The standard of reasonable doubt is substituted by the presumption of guilt without any benchmark standards.
An American author once said, and I quote, “A fair trial is one in which the rules of evidence are honoured, the accused has competent counsel, and the judge enforces the proper courtroom procedure. A trial in which every assumption can be challenged.” But, in the new media, the rules of evidence have no place. I don’t think the media has any concept of what evidence is in law. It has no idea of constitution investigation. But at the time when the crime is yet to be discovered, I think, the media has an important role to play. But when the second stage comes, the stage of a formal process of investigation, then the agencies of the law are obliged to investigate all the facts, both in the public domain and those discovered in the course of its formal investigation. At this stage, the media’s role is to abstain from ascribing guilt to any individual that is disruptive of the rule of law.
I remember the famous 2G case. And, many of my colleagues here are aware of how the sensationalism in the 2G case led to the decline of the sector itself. A report of the CNAG led to the court rendering a verdict at the level of the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court really became a court of first instance and presumed guilt, subject of course to the trial that was to take place. The result was the trial acquitted all the accused, and in the meantime, so much damage was done to the telecom sector that today, a sector which was then live and kicking, which was earning profits, which was providing efficient service- is today under the debt of almost 5,000 crore. So, I believe that at the stage of investigation, the media should not be allowed to deliver verdicts, lest it influences the processes of the law.
Ram Jethmalani was a warrior in the legal field
By K.K. Venugopal
Excerpts from Attorney General K.K. Venugopal’s speech at the Ram Jethmalani Memorial Lecture: Ram was a friend of mine, and I have known him from the year 1975, and I will tell you the circumstances in which I came to know him. Now, according to me whenever I think of Ram Jethmalani, I think of a warrior in the legal field. He was brave and fearless, and that was his main hallmark. I told him also once, that he was the best criminal lawyer, this country had produced, and he returned it by saying, “Why do you limit it to criminal law?” Though he was not in profession of constitutional law, there was no branch of law, in which he had not handled cases.
The time that I met him first, was in Parga, in 1975, at the heigh of the emergency. I had been invited by the Kerela Bar association, which was holding its annual meeting there, a huge affair, with about 100 lawyers present. I was asked to present a paper, and I decided I would speak about the Supreme Court, and it’s pre-eminence. The chief guest was Ram Jethmalani. I thought he would speak about some legal topic. But when he stood up, he started a fiery speech, attacking the Gnahdi family, and tore Sanjay Gandhi to bits. At that time, we should remember, that people were afraid to even listen to such a diatribe against the Gandhi family, and I found a large number of lawyers and reporters slowly trickling out the hall. Well, he finished, and he had to catch a flight, and went straight to Bombay. Then I was left with half an empty audience, and then I started on such a dry topic, like the Supreme Court and its supremacy, so I left.
When Ram arrived in Bombay, a warrant had been issued, which followed him to Bombay, and he would have been arrested. But 300 lawyers went to the Chief Justice, and got an order that granted him bail. He continued, until the infamous judgment in Kabulpur was delieved, and that day itself he left for the United States. But the day he arrived in the US, he was given a teaching job in one of the universities.
Congress asked him to give evidence, and the New Yok Times, said that perhaps it was his evidence that had led to the Emergency coming to an end, and therefore, as far as Ram is concerned, you can realize what a unique person he was.
He was a very old friend of mine. I was laying down my office as President of Union of International Rezevarta, which is an international association of lawyer’s the oldest, which had its headquarters in Paris. I was laying down my office in Philadelphia. Mrs Sandra Day O‘Connor was the chief guest, and Ram came all the way from India to be with me, when I laid down my office and handed it to my successor. That shows how good of a friend he was, that he took that much trouble to come to Philadelphia.
He was a Cabinet Minister in the Central Government, he was a MP for 6 terms, and throughout his career, he condemned corruption. Not only that, but he went on to the extent of fighting an article 32 petition in which he wanted there to be a committee who would investigate corruption, black money, and take steps to eradicate it. There, he succeeded, and a judgment was delivered by the KK Venugopal: Supreme Court, and a high powered committee of two SC judges, IAS officers and so on, was formed to fight those things.
He was not just a person, but a phenomenon. He passed like a star, through the annals of a legal system of India. His contribution to law and politics will be remembered.