Jaitley’s contributions to law came both from his four-decade-long political stint and his career in law. A graduate of Campus Law Centre, Delhi University, Jaitley started practicing law in 1977. He was designated a senior advocate in 1990 and had a short one-year stint as the Additional Solicitor General in 1990.
“Since he was in public life, Jaitley had the uncanny ability to simplify complex legal arguments. That made him appealing to any judge,” senior advocate Siddharth Luthra said. LIVE | Farewell, Arun Jaitley
“As a young lawyer,” Luthra recalled, “I briefed him for a tech company (in a case in the 1990s). He understood tech aspects of the case very well but we were appearing before a judge who had little expertise in the field. Jaitley argued the whole case brilliantly by substituting references to an online market place with examples that the judge would be familiar with — such as placing a newspaper advertisement, or buying a product from a store.”
He won the case, Luthra said.
In his initial days, Jaitley shared his office with senior advocate Dushyant Dave for more than seven years and ran a successful practice and maintained a closely-knit group of friends in the profession — former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, corporate lawyer Rian Karanjawala, senior advocates Rajeev Nayyar, Anip Sachthey and Beena Gupta, among others.
More than his courtroom appearances, Jaitley was sought after by his clients for his legal strategies. He planned the litigation strategy in the Jain hawala scandal and successfully defended BJP leader L K Advani.
As the Law Minister in 2000-04, Jaitley spearheaded the overhaul of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. Several amendments proposed by governments earlier had met with resistance from lawyers but in 2002, Jaitley introduced a fresh Bill streamlining the procedures in a trial that saves judicial time and ensures speedy justice.
He did not appear in court after 2009, when he was appointed the Leader of Opposition. However, his last courtroom appearance in May 2017, where he was cross-examined by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, was a master class for lawyers on how to cross-examine a tough witness.
Jaitley’s deposition was in the criminal defamation case against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Jaitley also played an instrumental role in shaping two significant laws: the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, and the Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017. The Supreme Court struck down the NJAC Act in 2015.
“Since he had observed the judiciary from both sides, he became more of a realist. Judicial accountability was a cause he felt deeply for,” senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said. In his blogs, Jaitley reflected on significant developments in judiciary. In April, he wrote a post criticising the sexual harassment charges against CJI Gogoi as an “assault on the institution.”
“The hallmark of a good senior advocate is also how good a mentor he is. The success of Jaitley’s juniors is proof that he was a very good senior advocate,” senior advocate Raju Ramachandran said. Among Jaitley’s notable juniors are Chief Justice of Tripura High Court Sanjay Karol, Delhi High Court judges Navin Chawla and Prathiba Singh, former ASG Maninder Singh and senior advocates Vibha Makhijia and Upmanyu Hazarika.