The line between law and politics has never really been clearly demarcated. For any political figure in the public eye, a basic connect with the legal pulse is always an asset. And as the Ministry of Law and Justice is concerned, it has almost always picked from within the proverbial Supreme Court ‘flock’ to elevate to its highest ranks.
Some, having clearly tasted blood, stayed on to have flourishing political careers, such as Veerappa Moily. Others find themselves back within the confines of the Apex Court, doing what they truly know best: lawyering.
Here we list five former Law Ministers who currently practice at the Supreme Court.
“Hired for difficult terrain”, in the words of current Chief Justice TS Thakur, Sibal is easily the busiest in the crop of former law Ministers. Although he appears in almost all cases connected with the Congress party, Sibal is a regular face in high profile cases.
USP: Doesn’t play the game, plays the man. Is able to read the mood of the judge well, and knows when to tone down (or ratchet up) the aggression.
Notable Cases: Appeared in the SEBI-Sahara dispute, Rahul Gandhi Defamation case and the BCCI-Lodha Committee Showdown.
Ram Jethmalani [Law Minister from 1996-1996, 1999-2000]
If a courtroom is packed with star-struck spectators, clamouring to get a glimpse of a diminutive old man, chances are, you’ve stumbled into a Courtroom commanded by veteran criminal lawyer, Ram Jethmalani. Despite his boldness, which might seem offensive at times, he still remains a favourite with most judges.
One of the most controversial of India’s law minister, Jethmalani was made Law Minister during the Vajpayee government in 1999, but was later asked to resign following differences with Attorney General Soli Sorabjee and the Chief Justice of India, AS Anand.
USP: The now-legendary, and still acerbic, wit, and a razor sharp memory.
Notable Cases: Defence of Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, Haji Mastan, Amit Shah in the Sohrabbudin fake encounter case.
Subramanian Swamy [Law Minister 1990 – 1991]
This former Law Minister, who famously entered the Supreme Court as wife Roxna’s ‘clerk’, does not have a degree in law. As a law Minister, he served a term of roughly a year, under the Chandra Shekhar government.
Swamy usually appears as a ‘petitioner-in-person’, and his petitions have helped solidify his position as an anti-corruption, pro-Hindu crusader.
USP: Gentle yet persuasive style of arguing, which will disarm the toughest of judges, and complete unwillingness to ever take offence to offhand remarks from the bench.
Notable cases: The 1996 corruption case against Jayalalithaa, petition against criminal defamation cases, challenge to CBI’s power to investigate senior bureaucrats without prior permission
Salman Khurshid (Law Minister, 2012 – 2014)
More active in the Delhi High Court, he is a rare, though welcome sight in the Supreme Court. Khurshid has a small circle of juniors, who are fiercely loyal to him due to his magnanimity as a senior. Known to be extremely close to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who staunchly stood by him amid corruption allegations levelled by Arvind Kejriwal.
USP: Polite eloquence, no doubt a stamp of his Stephens-Oxford education.
Notable Cases: Appeared for Students Islamic Movement of India, appealing the 2002 ban on SIMI; also appeared in the Vyapam Scam case.
Ashwani Kumar (Law Minister 2012 – 2013)
More activist than lawyer, Kumar is most famous for filing PILs for several causes, such as the establishment of welfare homes for the elderly. Rarely appears in person, with most cases being argued by other lawyers.
Replacing Salman Khurshid as the country’s Law Minster, he resigned after a period of six months over controversies in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation of the Coalgate scam.
USP: Matter of fact way of arguing, coupled with a simple and unassuming persona.
Notable Cases: Bhopal Gas Tragedy case, Several PILs against pressing issues like judicial appointments and custodial torture.
Of times past
The five mentioned above are by no way an exception or a new trend. Some of the other former (and one current) Law Ministers who were frequent faces in the apex court include:
1. Arun Jaitley
Served as Law Minister twice, the first time after taking over from Ram Jethmalani. Has appeared for multinationals Pepsi and Coca Cola in many cases.
2. Shanti Bhushan
A rare sight in the Supreme Court these days, the lawyer who defended Raj Narain against Indira Gandhi enjoys unchallenged reverence in the Supreme Court. Has always been politically active, starting with his stint as Law Minister during the Morarji Desai Government, to being a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party.
3. Veerappa Moily
One of the most prolific lawyers to ever enter the political sphere, Veerappa Moily had a distinguished and productive term as Law Minister, with multiple reforms in the field of legal education.
4. Ravi Shankar Prasad
Current Union Minister for Law and Justice, Prasad has appeared in important cases, such as the PIL against former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad in the fodder scam.
Image of Kapil Sibal from here.
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