The unrivalled lawyer of colonial India
“His hypnotic influence spreads his fame all over. His terrific encounters with the Judges and the bombshells he throws in the courts are well known. As an Advocate, he possesses gifts which cast a spell on the Courts, the Judges, the Juries, the Solicitors, and Clients, all alike. As a Counsel, he has ever held his head erect, unruffled by the worst circumstances, no Judge dare bully him. His ready tongue and brilliant advocacy have worked off all judicial storms. The compliment paid him that he is ‘the Lord Simon of the Indian Bar’ does not awkwardly sit on him”. Aforesaid words were said by the Editor of the Forum, Joachim Alva, to describe enormity of Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a lawyer.
Diverse opinions exist concerning Jinnah, some call him a master negotiator, some a captivating leader, some a astute politician, some a secular liberal and some a conformist reactionary. Nevertheless, when it comes to unfolding abilities of Jinnah as a Lawyer, every one propounded the same theory i.e.: Jinnah was the most accomplished, versatile, competent and dignified lawyer of Colonial India. Frank Moraes, said “No man is more adroit in presenting his case than Jinnah. If to achieve the maximum result with minimum effort is the hall-mark of artistry, Mr. Jinnah is an artist in his craft”. The renowned English Jurist, Lord Denning had cherished the fact that Jinnah had been a member of Lincoln’s Inn. Sir Stafford Cripps suggested “Jinnah is the most accomplished lawyer, outstanding amongst Indian lawyers and a fine constitutionalist”. Even his arch political rival Gandhi, in his letter to Lord Birkenhead, said, “Mr. Jinnah and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru are the two cleverest lawyers of India”.
In 1893, the young Jinnah enrolled at the Inns of Court to train as a barrister. He graduated at the age of 19 as the youngest Indian barrister of that time. An extraordinary insight into Jinnah’s early brilliance as a lawyer can be inferred from the fact that he filed a petition in Council of the Inn on 25th April 1893, for exemption from the Latin paper (required for admission at the Inn). In the said petition, he raised very logical and convincing arguments, as a consequence the petition was allowed.
On his return, he preferred working in Bombay as it was the financial capital of India and hub of commercial litigation. Jinnah initially worked with John M. Macpherson, the Acting Advocate-General of Bombay and also for a while with Sir George Lowndes. In 1900 with assistance of McPherson, Jinnah was appointed Third Presidency Magistrate for Bombay. On the expiry of six months appointment period, he was offered a permanent appointment on a salary of Rs. 1,500 per month but he courteously declined the offer, adding that his goal was to earn Rs. 1,500 a day.
Jinnah’s abilities as a lawyer were for the first time recognised in 1907 in the Caucus Case. The general elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation were taking place; one of the constituencies was that of the Justices of Peace with space for 16 returned members. Several European members formed an alliance called the ‘Caucus’ to defeat Sir Pheroze Shah. Consequently, all the 16 ‘Caucus’ candidates triumphed while Pheroze Shah stood seventeenth. The election of Suleman Abdul Waheed (stood 16th) was challenged by Pheroze Shah through Jinnah on the pretext that Waheed’s firm Ludha Ibrahim & Co held conratcs with the municipality. Mr. Jinnah’s cross-examination of witnesses particularly of Lovat Fraser (Editor of Times) was calamitous. All the contentions raised by Jinnah were accepted by the judge and Pheroze Shah was declared as duly elected to the Corporation.
The case of Bal Ganghadhar Tilak (AIR 1916 Bombday 9) was defining moment in Jinnah’s career. By trial court, Tilak was convicted for sedition; Mr. Jinnah appeared in the Appeal before the Bombay High Court and explained dissimilarity between disaffection and disapprobation. He further argued that, firstly Indians as British citizens were entitled to criticise the bureaucracy of government of India as they only owed loyalty to the British crown and that secondly the CID had translated Tilak’s Marathi speeches into English incorrectly thus giving impression of treason. Due to Jinnah’s brilliance Tilak was acquitted by the High Court. Jinnah became heartthrob of all nationalists of India as a result and his legal acumen received nationwide recognition and his public eminence grew manifold.
In 1925, Maharajah of Indore’s infatuation for Mumtaz (a dancer) led to murder of Abdul Kadar Bawla, a wealthy businessman of Bombay. Mr. Jinnah appeared for the main accused, and saved him from a looming death sentence.
In the famous Defamation case of B.G. Horniman, Jinnah’s expert management of the brief led to the conviction of the editor, printer and publisher of the paper, Briton. Oscar Wilde had failed in a fairly similar case, Horniman triumphed solely due to Jinnah’s dexterity.
In the much publicised case of the Raja of Nanpara wherein leading lawyers of India appeared against Jinnah, the Judge of the Oudh Chief Court, observed: “I must also express my sense of great indebtedness to Mr. Jinnah for his extremely able arguments, which were of great assistance to me in the decision of several difficult points of both fact and law involved in the case”.
Jinnah faced Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, the superstar of the Allahabad Bar in Prince of Bhopal Waqf Case. In the said case, for three days, Sapru presented exhaustive and powerfully convincing arguments before the Bhopal High Court, to which Jinnah remained completely indifferent. However, when his turn to argue came he rose to the bar and killed Sapru’s arguments with just a single shot by contending that the High Court had no jurisdiction to try the case. Before the judge, he placed an old law (still relevant), dating back even prior to the establishment of the High Court, mandating that all matters involving amount greater than one lakh had to be heard by the ruler herself.
Once in a very unusual case, Jinnah cross examined a witnesses in Hebrew language – The man in question himself was a very illustrious Palestinian lawyer and was an authority on the Law. Jinnah handled the case in such a skillful manner, that even the Palestinian lawyer was compelled to eulogise his cross-examining skills.
If witticism is an art then Jinnah was Picasso of it, he often left judges thunderstruck with his presence of mind and wits. Once during a court proceeding, Justice Martin angrily shouted towards Jinnah “you are not addressing a third class magistrate”; Jinnah replied “there isn’t a third class counsel before your Lordship”. In 1941, when Jinnah appeared in the Sindh Chief Court, hundreds of people flocked in the court just to hear him. In anger, Chief Justice Davis asked the court clerk to clear and close the doors of the court room. Jinnah got up and merrily uttered “the doors of justice must always remain open”, the Judges had no other option but to concur to what Jinnah said.
Jinnah was wizard with a monocle; even the most intricate facts became plain and understandable when he waved his wand over them. He was a intrepid maestro, who overpoweringly ruled the galaxy of top lawyers in colonial India. He was rightly described as a peculiar amalgamation of Sir Edward Marshall Hall (due to his swift and systematic arrangement of facts), Sir Edward Carson (due to his cross-examining skills) and Sir John Simon (due to his finesse in presenting a case). No doubt, the contemporaries of Jinnah like Bhulabhai Desai, K.M. Munshi, Sir Tej Bahadur Supru, Hasan Imam and Thomas Strangman were great lawyers but no one came close to his artistry of analysis, categorisation and presentation of facts and the eloquence and nuance of arguments.