Prior to the trial in 2013, Salman Khan took a ride similar to the one he took 12 years ago when the Toyota Land Cruiser he was driving ran over five men sleeping on a pavement in Bandra. This time, it was with lawyer Shrikant Shivade who was building up his case for the fresh trial in which the actor was charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The man who prefers not to be called a celebrity lawyer has earlier cross-examined actors including Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Madhur Bhandarkar and has also defended a rape accused, Shiney Ahuja. “I probably am the only one who has been assigned to defend top police officers and alleged dons as well,” Shivade claims.
“My father was with the police force. I have seen the worst of it and it is probably why I defend the few who have been falsely implicated,” he says. The lawyer has been defending persons implicated in TADA cases.
Shivade says he had to give up many cases to concentrate on defending Khan in the present case. Asked about the amount of research that has gone into the case, the lawyer passionately walks up to his black suitcase and produces thick books of the Maharashtra Medical Code, gas chromatography, fermentation, hydraulic steering and pamphlets of other chemistry studies. The judge, in his observation, termed Shivade’s cross-examination of expert witnesses as a “gruelling” one, which went on for three days each for two witnesses — a chemical analyst who analysed Khan’s blood samples and an RTO inspector who checked the car after the accident took place.
For details such as the force with which a 3,000-kg car would fall from a height of 2-3 feet, the lawyer sought help from Pune-based KPIT Technologies. “We had calculated the force with which the car could fall from different heights. We had asked the Toyota company to make us a 3D model of the same Land Cruiser my client was driving, for demonstrations in court,” the lawyer says.
“At times 48 hours straight I had to sit down for just reading. I have to know more than an expert. I need to know the purpose of the first question I ask to my witness and the last one I ask the last witness,” Shivade says.
According to a source close to Shivade, he had prepared for over two months, participating in blood alcohol tests in a lab, in order to conduct the cross-examination of the chemical analyst in the hit-and-run case.
“The most important aspect was his attention to detail. He worked on the Toyota car himself before he could cross-examine the RTO inspector. The manner in which he completely broke the chemical analyst witness is something I would take back from the trial as a lawyer,” says Manahar Saini, a lawyer assisting him in the case.
Shivade’s first and most “interesting” celebrity case was the Bharat Shah case, the trial of a diamond merchant and film financier Bharat Shah and others who are facing charges of aiding underworld don Chhota Shakeel. He claims that his senior, a lawyer he idolised, recommended him to Bharat Shah. The case was the first one in which call data records were presented as evidence. “There was no precedent case based on which guidelines for cross-examination could be referred to. We had to go through cases and cross-examinations from other countries, in order to break such technical evidence,” says Shivade, whose very first case was as defence lawyer for a foreigner who alleged a guitar theft by a woman, finally ending in a settlement. The lawyer claims to have learnt the most from two prosecutors — P R Vakil and U A Jadhav.
The 81-year-old Jadhav, who had known Shivade for over 20 years then, says, he was “one of the best cross-examiners for criminal cases”.
“His assistance was exceptionally valuable to me in all my cases, especially the Bharat Shah case. He still contacted me for advice on the Salman hit-and-run case on aspects such as how to lead the defence with the chemical analyst witness and motor vehicle inspector,” Jadhav recalls.
Special public prosecutor Rohini Salian, who is currently handling the Mumbai triple blast and Malegaon blast cases, terms Shivade a “worthy opponent”.
In cases of celebrity trials, Shivade says, there is no room for a lawyer to make mistakes. “They are soft targets. The smallest of things get magnified,” he says. According to him, there is a misconception that the rich get away, and the sensationalisation could lead to miscarriage of justice. “The most important aspect is to walk a fine line between protecting the image of the celebrity and conducting a case. There is natural prejudice in such cases. Seeking exemptions and bails becomes a headache as it is looked upon with suspicion,” says Shivade.
Living in his sea-facing hotel room in Marine Plaza since 2002 along with his wife, the Pune-based lawyer started practising in 1985. He completed his BSC from Elphinstone college in Mumbai and was forced to leave the city after his father’s retirement.
“I was part of more difficult cases than the ones I am known for — cases in which over 100 witness were to be examined. I don’t want to be known as only Salman’s lawyer,” he says.