According to Ms. Ghose, the main question to be asked and answered is why Jethmalani should accept to try Manu Sharma's case, especially when public opinion is set so staunchly in favour of the Lall family, both in public minds and in those of police and judicial officers.
Jethmalani declares in no uncertain terms that he does not care whether Sharma is guilty or not, but only that he should receive a fair trial in the judicial system with the best available legal representation. Any attempts by the media to influence the decisions and/or prejudice opinions against his client is tantamount to contempt of court, he claims, because it is a High Court that had previously declared Sharma and his co-accused Vikas Yadav not guilty of Jessica Lall's murder.
The man has a point. The Indian judicial system has a long and ugly history of allowing public sentiment to influence the decisions awarded in several high-profile cases. Of course, one cannot ignore the impact of political influence on these decisions as well, as many investigative reports, both by police and by reporters, seem to indicate in the Lall case. In any event, with the case reopened, the intense scrutiny on the evidence and reports presented by the police to the courts, it seems that this case will be tried in the media every bit as much as it will be in the Delhi High Court. Ms. Ghose closed her program with a comment tantamount to a promise that CNN-IBN is committed to furthering the "fight for justice" - read "punishment for Manu Sharma". In effect, the media has already tried and convicted the man for his role in Jessica Lall's murder.
Enter Ram Jethmalani. While the country is out to lynch the guy whom every Indian believes to be guilty of murder, this octagenarian chooses to defend him. Against the wishes of his family, and the advice of his close friends and colleagues at the Supreme Court. This speaks for two things - the man's conviction in the system and its process, and his gargantuan ego, neither of which can be renounced by a criminal defence lawyer. Such is the business of the law, and such are the characteristics required of a participant in a criminal trial, especially one with capital consequences.
But I won't question his motives; I shall merely state my view on his comments.
He is right in claiming a fair and unprejudiced trial for his client. The innocent-until-proven-guilty clause exists even in India, whether we are willing to adhere to it or not, and it is the fundament of the entire judicial system. If an accused were denied the right or the facility to defend himself, what would be the need for a judiciary at all? No trial, only sentencing would be the duty of a judge. The Jammu & Kashmir High Court passed a ruling denying the accused in the Srinagar bombings the right to a lawyer, a ruling that was quickly and firmly quashed by the Supreme Court, and the proceedings moved to the Chandigarh High Court. At least someone has their heads screwed on straight.
He is right in questioning the integrity of the judge, SC Sodhi. It is as possible that the judge was compromised as it is that the police were coerced into withholding evidence, from similar political and media pressures. His motion may not be granted, but it is a question that any half-decent defence lawyer will ask. Jethmalani is well above half-decent.
He is right in declaring that conscience is bullshit when dealing with judicial process. A defence lawyer cannot be swayed by what the public believes. He does not need to consider whether his client is guilty or not. He only needs to know the law, the facts and the best way to present a fair and honest (oh yeah!) case to the court, and to depend on the judge to make the appropriate decision. This is how the system works, and it is in the best interests of our entire democratic institution that this continue to be how it works.
Only one question needs to be answered: how does Jethmalani, who was previously consulted by the Lall family, reconcile his client's privilege, given that he has participated in a professional capacity in discussions with both parties in this case. There has to be a loophole, and I'm hoping that someone can point it out to me. I find it extremely perplexing that a legal consultant for the plaintiff will choose to subsequently represent the defendant.
For the record, I'm cynical enough to believe that Manu Sharma and Vikas Yadav are guilty, not just of murder, but of interfering with police investigations, coercing witness testimonies, attempting to destroy evidence and illegally influencing the judiciary. The same cynic also believes that Jethmalani's need for public recognition has not waned at all, and this is one more feather he would like to add to his overflowing cap. He might even succeed, but at the loss of much goodwill and respect. But he is his own man, and he is free to negotiate the price he will pay for his success.
But somewhere inside, hidden away behind the cynic, there is a small voice that cries out, "What if he's right?"