Advocate Manu Sharma has been practising at the bar for over sixteen years. He specialises in Criminal Defence. Some of the high profile cases he has represented are – the 2G scam case for former Union minister A Raja; the Religare/Fortis case for Malvinder Singh; Peter Mukerjee in the P Chidambaram/ INX Media case; Devas Multimedia in ISRO corruption act case; Om Prakash Chautala in PMLA case; Aditya Talwar in the aviation scam case; Dilip Ray, former Coal Minister in one of the coal scam cases; Suhaib Illyasi case.
Q: When did you start practising law?
After getting enrolled with the Delhi Bar in December 2003, I initially started in the chambers of Pandit RK Naseem, who was the best trial lawyer in those days. I worked with him for three and a half years, got a lot of trial court experience while working with him and assisting him on some really big trial matters. Then I joined Mr Gopal Subramanium for a very short stint in the Supreme Court because for me SC experience was also very important. In 2009 I went independent and since then I’ve been independently practising Criminal Law. All my work is Criminal Defence. I only take up defence matters and rarely take up any prosecution case or complainant case. So this is how my career has unfolded so far — five years of being a junior and 11 years of independently practising.
Q: You have a very good rate of providing relief to your clients. Why don’t you tell us more about that?
Rate, well I have never looked into those terms but most people (clients) go home happy. It is a lot of hard work and there is no substitute to it. In Criminal Advocacy, you learn by watching, by absorbing, Of course you must have the basic talent. So it is important that you figure that out.
My assessment so far and experience is that not everyone is cut out for court rooms though most people want to be there. If you want to get into litigation, you have to be a court room player and perform. But not everyone is cut out for it. It’s important for whoever enters the profession to have a real assessment of his or her talents and what he or she is ultimately going to be good at. I think the internship provides you with that opportunity. Most people should figure it out during that rather than just jumping into it.
When you talk about my success rate, it is a combination of hard work and luck. Yes, so far things have been good.
Q: What does is it take to be cut out for Litigation?
The image of a lawyer is someone having a Law Library with all those Volumes stacked up. I can’t speak for Civil, but Criminal Advocacy is a lot about mastering the facts of a file, knowing each and every second’s development, time, date, who says what. Simultaneously two or three people might be talking about an incident in a different manner. So facts and mastering of facts is important because that is what enables one to cross examine effectively. That is the first step towards building a good case.
The second step of course is to present the fact, to present effectively before the court whatever good has come out in your cross. Again facts are important. Advocacy lies in emphasising the good points and not just downplaying the bad points. And at all times to have the Court on your side because it’s important. Sometimes you run into Judges who are just predetermined to give a bad order or rule against you. That should not discourage you. That is not how you should enter a court room. One should always step inside with a positive frame of mind. So facts, facts, facts, mastering of facts and a good cross and then presenting them in a fashion which isn’t boring, coming to the relevant facts because judges appreciate lawyers who are not verbose. Although people are tempted to be verbose and go on and on. Don’t do that. Come straight to the point, deal with those important 4-5 points and then walk out. That’s how it should be. That’s what the Judges appreciate.
Q: Why criminal defence? That’s a highly difficult part of litigation.
The first indicator was when I was studying law. I had no idea that I would get into criminal defence. I came from a bureaucracy background. My father was a civil servant who had retired. At that time I wanted to get into a good Law Firm, have a nice cubicle and work under a good senior. I was on that track, I interned with a couple of law firms but found that work to be utterly boring. I was also disillusioned about what to do. I had gotten into it but I was not liking Corporate Law.
How it unfolded for me was when I topped Criminal Law in the University — Criminal Law II, Criminal law I and Evidence. My score was maximum in the University. That became first indicator and the second one was when I met Mr Naseem and he decided that I could be his Junior. When I worked with him I realised that yes, Criminal Law was my true calling.
Q: Where did you do your LLB from?
Faculty of Law, Delhi University, 2003 batch.
Q: You have done many high profile cases, some of them quite controversial. From the Uphaar case to defending the Singh brothers in the Fortis matter now. Why don’t you share your experiences with us about some of those cases?
My experience in these cases is when it gets down to merit, there is very little in these matters. They are big in terms of the media watching, people watching and they are projected in a certain sort of manner. But when it boils down to dealing with the merit it turns out to be very significant. The perception which is created in the media that takes a lot of hard work to dislodge and get the Judge to hear purely on evidence. It’s tougher. When I go and defend a guy who is nameless, who is faceless, it’s easier because judges don’t feel any pressure. Particularly the lower court judges feel a sort of pressure in these kind of matters So it’s fun. It’s part of the deal. Now I’m used to it. It doesn’t stress me anymore
Q: So it did stress you out earlier?
Yes. It does stress you out. It puts a lot of pressure of course but one learns to deal with that and one begins to enjoy it also. So the element of glamour in Criminal Law is defending people like these.
Q: Do you feel guilty because of the emotions involved especially on the other side?
This is something I tell everyone. When you become a Criminal Lawyer basically you deal with two Articles of the Constitution – 21 & 22. Article 21 says no one will be deprived of their life and liberty without due process of law and Article 22 says every accused is entitled to have a lawyer of his own choice. And the Lawyer has to then implement Article 21and play his part in that.
Yes, there will be emotions on the other side — someone close has died, there has been an accident or a murder, or someone has been subjected to a sexual assault, or someone died due to negligence, or some have lost money in a builder matter or syphoning off of funds. Yes, it is there but I think the important part one must realise is that criminal courts are not to be played around this.
As a lawyer you are discharging a constitutional function. One restricts to that and respects the other side’s emotions but also makes sure that those emotions do not overwhelm the facts of the case. It doesn’t make me feel guilty or it doesn’t make me feel innocent.
Q: In the context of the Nirbhaya case where there are emotions involved and questions are being raised on the right of the convicts. It’s due process of law vs public perception. What of do you think of that?
What in public perception is loophole or the system being taken for a ride, I think people in general should know that these are safeguards embedded in our Law, Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure and in various special legislations. But people tend to take them to be as loopholes because for them the end is important and they want to see an evil person hanged or in jail and if the lawyer for the accused comes in the way of that by raising those issues, he is accused of creating a loophole or utilising a loophole. But that’s not the case.
If those safeguards are not there, we will see a police excesses. One should not shut his or her eyes to that. Objective judicial scrutiny will not be done of the facts of the case. So I don’t believe in these terms. There are no loopholes. Our system is very good. These are safeguards which should be administered and if after exhausting all of them a man deserves to be hanged or sentenced to jail then do it. But observe all of those, give him a fair trial.
Q: You have been practising for a long time. How do you think our country’s justice delivery system can be improved?
Most importantly, by ensuring speedy trials because this is something which I am coming across more and more especially in the terror matters where people are investigated and tried for Unlawful Activities, which is sort of a step child of the TADA and POTA. Now NIA prosecutes these cases. These are matters where bail is usually denied. If you are denying bail to a man then give him a speedy trial. Even that is being denied. So, I think the system should do something about this. People who are denied bail should be given a day to day trial.
The second thing is my experience of the system is that the lower court judges usually now a days get selected based on writing an examination, without having practiced law. So there is no sensitization about the system or how the police works, how the agencies work, how the Judicial Process can sometimes drive you to the edge. They need to be sensitized about these things. I think regular seminars for judicial officers is a must for them to be made aware of the ground work and the ground realities of our system.
As a society and as a judicial system we have a very good system in place but still we have a long way to go. We still come across cases like in Hyderabad where cops shot down four men who were accused of rape and the public sprinkled flowers and the DGP made a statement that ‘I have done justice’. We really don’t want to do that. We have to discourage this kind of sentiment. The judiciary must stand up and stay strong and take these people to task. Nobody should get away with that. Even if you are an IPS, you should not encourage this and it is for the judiciary to ensure that. And this process starts from a very low level in criminal law because every criminal case is tried in the lower courts, either magistrate or sessions. so for them to be aware of the ground realities of how the police functions it is important.
Most people (lower court judges) come from civil background, have never practised law so they tend to go more with the Agencies’ perspective rather than the defence perspective. So, that is something which will happen, which will take time but concerted effort is also important.
So these two areas – speedy trials and judicial sensitization to be made aware of the ground realities of our society and our system. These are two things that come to my mind right now. There could be many more.
Q: Now there is a lot of talk about using technology in improving the speed at which justice is delivered. A lot of former Judges, even Justice Bobde, has spoken about how Artificial Intelligence and technology can be used in the courts. How do you think technology can enhance the way law is practiced?
I truly believe in the human element in the administration of justice. We can’t have robots to deliver justice. But research is one area of course where one can digitise the records. It is also happening at a very fast pace in the high courts and can be done for lower courts also. Access to digitisation should be made cheaper because when lawyers set out they cannot buy all these kinds of softwares. Law libraries should be digitized, filing also. Now Delhi High Court is adopting digitized filing. I think in terms of these technology does make a huge difference.
Q: What do you do when you’re not working ?
I spend my time with my family. I have two sons. One is almost 9, one has turned 4. So, I spend with my wife and sometimes I go for jazz. I have a jazz club membership at a private club. I go there once a week, get a drink, attend the performances. Sometimes I watch a movie. I like travelling once a year particularly to the UK. It’s an all-time favourite destination. I also read a lot.
Q: What apart from Law Books?
I prefer classics. Right now I am reading this Histories by Herodotus. Sometimes I also pick up something very contemporary. I was reading about this lawyer call Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman lawyer of ancient times. There’s a trilogy on him and I am on its second leg.
Q: Do you want your kids to become lawyers when they grow up?
No. I want them to enjoy life and pick up, as I said, one must identify whether one is cut-out for that. People tend to get pushed into the system because they feel they’ll get deep advantages. And it is a very sad part of our system, that judge’s kid will become a judge, a lawyer’s kid will become a lawyer.
Q: A lot of them do actually.
They do. But not all of them turn out to be their fathers.
Q: To end the interview on a lighter note, are you often confused with the other Manu Sharma of the infamous Jessica Lal case?
It happened a lot initially but now it has stopped. It was funny but bad publicity. I was defending him also. In one of the trials, Justice S L Bhayana got confused one day. He asked where is Manu Sharma (the accused) and he saw me, the Manu Sharma wearing robes, as the accused had got late to court that day. So the judge was quite confused.