Being the youngest person to be called to the Bar, he became a barrister at the age of nineteen, and that is how Muhammad Ali Jinnah began his journey towards a remarkable career that spanned nearly five decades.
He acquired his education by becoming an apprentice to a reputable barrister, a system which was being practiced in Britain for centuries. In addition he took membership at the British Museum Library, where he had access to books related to politics and biographies, which helped him immensely. He also frequently visited the House of Commons and studied the British political system, and was rather impressed by William E. Gladstone, who had become Prime Minister for the fourth time in 1892. Therefore the three years that he spent in London molded him in to the person he became. As Aziz Beg writes in his biography “Jinnah and his Times” “It was in London that he acquired love of personal freedom and national independence. Inspired by the British democratic principles and fired by a new faith in supremacy of law, liberalism and constitutionalism became twin tools of Jinnah’s political creed which he daringly but discreetly used during the rest of his life.”
When he returned, he soon shifted from Karachi to Bombay because the crème’ de la crème of lawyer-politicians were based there and he had much better prospects of establishing his practice; yet it made him the only Muslim Barrister in the city. And so within a few years he had built quite a name for himself. He practiced in civil, criminal and high courts, and above all in the highest tribunal of the Commonwealth i.e. Privy Council. It was perhaps because of this that the prominent and high-ranking political leader Pherozeshah Mehta asked Jinnah to defend him in the Caucus case in 1906, which gave him instant fame. There onwards he won many famous cases.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah was considered to be a combination of Sir Edward Marshall Hall (who was a brilliant British barrister and had earned himself the title of “The Great Defender”) because of his quick and methodical arrangement of facts, Sir Edward Carson (who was one of the leading Irish barristers of his time) because of the way he cross-examined and Sir John Simon (who was Lord Chancellor of Britain (1940-45) which is the most senor position in the British legal system) because of his finesse in presenting a case. This fact alone is enough to give us a valuable insight into his legal prowess.
Furthermore the following excerpt from “Leaders of India (1943)” authored by Joachim Alva, who was an Indian politician, lawyer and journalist is also proof of what is written above. “One place will long cherish Jinnah’s memory; there it remains imperishable. Courage and sheer impudence have won him fame in the Law Courts. 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. He has been our boldest Advocate, no Judge dare bully him. He will not brook any insult. Jinnah’s ready tongue and brilliant advocacy have worked off all judicial storms and won him all-round admiration. Clients and Solicitors prize Jinnah’s services for his matchless grit and courage to stand up for the causes he represents. Certain Judges, notorious for their calculated Suits to the junior practitioners, hold their tongue when face to face with Jinnah. Jinnah has preserved his position at the Bar intact and unsullied. Toadying or the remotest connection that excites suspicion is foreign to his nature. In short, he is the embodiment of the highest standards of the Bar. The compliment paid to him that he is ‘the Lord Simon of the Indian Bar’ does not awkwardly sit on him.”
He faced many unusual cases, one of which was remembered by Mr. Hormasji Maneckji Seervai (who served as Advocate General of Bombay (1957-60)), in a centenary meeting in 1976. In it one of the witnesses was a very distinguished Palestinian lawyer, an expert in Hebrew Law, yet Jinnah handled the case in such an adroit manner, that the lawyer was greatly impressed by his cross-examining skills.
While on at least two occasions the Jammu and Kashmir High Court had the privilege of his presence, and that too when he was on his vacations in Kashmir. One such case was Hanifa Begum vs the State. He asked for the case papers just a day in advance, as it seemed that he had solved the case only by listening to the facts. Therefore his appearance in court was greatly anticipated; because of himself and the fact that the case was thought to be hopeless, so people from all walks of life came for the hearing. What actually happened in the court room is of course not known, but he did win the case.
One of Jinnah’s legal apprentices’ M.C. Chagla, who went on to become the first Indian Muslim Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court remembers him in his Memoirs “Roses in December (1973)” .. “What impressed me the most was the lucidity of his thought and expression. There were no obscure spots or ambiguities about what Jinnah had to tell the court. He was straight and forthright, and always left a strong impression whether his case was intrinsically good or bad. I remember sometimes at a conference he would tell the solicitor that his case was hopeless, but when he went to the court he fought like a tiger, and almost made me believe that he had changed his opinion. Whenever I talked to him afterwards about it, he would say that it was the duty of an advocate, however bad the case might be, to do the best for his client”. His ‘presentation of a case’ was nothing less than a piece of art”
His death was an enormous loss for us, yet it was also felt equally by others, as the premier Legal journal of India, The All India Reporter paid him a glowing tribute “Although Mr. Jinnah’s career as a political leader and as the representative of the successful Muslim Movement for separation in India overshadows all other aspects of his life, a legal journal like this has to take note of the fact that he was a lawyer of outstanding eminence and in his death our country has lost one of its greatest lawyers. As a brilliant advocate, he had few rivals. He was also universally recognized as a man of unimpeachable integrity, and honored by friend and foe alike for his incorruptibility. Mr. Jinnah’s name will live in history as the greatest protagonist of the Two-Nation theory in India and the creator of Pakistan.”
It was our greatest fortune to be associated with such a man, let us keep reminding ourselves of just that…