This Article is submitted by –
- Hrishikesh Prakash Jaiswal, 3rd-year BALLB student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal.
Sometime back a lot of buzz was created when Actress Rhea Chakraborty had engaged Adv. Satish Manishinde as her defense counsel in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case. She was being attacked and criticized by media and social media for hiring an expensive celebrity lawyer like Mr. Manishinde. This made a lot of us wonder, about who are the top Bigshot criminal lawyers in our country. India is home to some of the very prominent and big gun lawyers who can hold the entire court in awe with their fabulous arguments and skills. Here is a list of the top ten criminal advocates in India, the list is prepared based on official newspaper rankings; Senior advocate designation; landmark and famous cases which have helped in the development of law and society; pro-bono and scholarly work; awards and accolades and last but not the least, the fee they charge.
The list is as follows-
One of the youngest lawyers to be designated as Senior Counsel at the Apex Court, Gopal Subramanium is a name every aspiring new law entrant knows and aspires to be like. He was a junior to renowned Advocate Mr. Soli Sorabjee. He was appointed as the Solicitor General of India in the year 2009 and represented the Government of India in various cases relating to the criminal matters. His criminal law feats include appointment as the Special PP in the Ajmal Kasab case[i]; Counsel for the government in the 2G spectrum case[ii]; Special Public Prosecutor[iii] in the infamous high-profile Jessica Lal Murder case. Everything comes with a price and in the business of justice, the price may be much higher especially in criminal matters where a bit hither and thither can lead an innocent to suffer and the criminal to be set free. Mr. Gopal charges around 5.5 – 16.5 lakh per appearance[iv] which makes him one of the most expensive criminal lawyers in the Delhi circuit. In 2009, he was awarded the National Law Day Award for Outstanding Jurist, by the government for his immense contribution in the field of law.[v]His name was being considered by the Law Ministry for being lifted to the bench from the bar, but things did not work in his favor and he couldn’t bag the Supreme Court ticket, with the Law Ministry citing professional misconduct being the primary reason for doing so.[vi]
Known to be the finest criminal lawyer in India, the next lawyer on our list is ex- Additional Solicitor General[vii] and Senior Advocate Mr. Sidharth K Luthra. He has completed his M Phil in criminology from University of Cambridge[viii]. Mr. Luthra is one of the few senior lawyers in India to be specializing in criminal law. Earlier he used to practice on the civil side but later he shifted his gears on the criminal side under the junior ship of late Senior Advocate PR Vakil. Mr. Luthra has been a part of various milestone criminal law cases, some of which are Tehelka Case[ix]; Facebook Case[x]; Arun Jaitley defamation case[xi]; he was appointed as a Special Public Prosecutor in the Delhi Gangrape Case[xii]. He is also regularly appointed as an Amicus Curiae in various criminal and Corporate Criminal Liability cases by the Supreme Court. Luthra & Luthra Law Offices and Campus Law Centre, Delhi annually organizes the celebrated KK Luthra Memorial Moot Court Competition[xiii] which is a very popular legal event among law students across India. It is said that “with great power comes great responsibility” and Mr. Luthra proves this right, approximately 40% of his cases are pro bono but for the rest of them he charges not less than 4-5 lakh ₹ per hearing.[xiv]
“For them a Brahmin is above the law!” are popular lines said by the person second on our list. He is Mr. KTS Tulsi, a 72-year-old advocate cum politician from Punjab. In the early part of his life, he was into teaching and academics and later started his practice in criminal law. He is the sitting president of the Criminal Justice Society of India[xv] and has various feathers to his cap when it comes to the cases in which he has been involved in. Mr. Tulsi is still a writing addict and has tons of books and publications to his name. He is closely associated to the Indian National Congress Party and has fought and won various crucial cases for the Gandhi family, be it the Rajiv Gandhi murder case or the Vadra-DLF land case, Mr. Tulsi has been a loyal party man. He charges hefty fees from his clients which is somewhere around 5-6 lakh ₹ per appearance, but he is also known for his pro bono work.[xvi] In 2015, In an RTI filed by NDTV, it was found out that the Haryana government had paid him a colossal 5.5 crore ₹ in the Maruti plant workers case. Mr. Tulsi charged ₹ 11 lakh per appearance in the lower courts.[xvii]
It is said to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and this metaphorical phrase perfectly fits for this advocate. One of the leading criminal lawyers in the country, Mr. Sushil Kumar is the only lawyer seen in a sherwani in the corridors of the apex court. Senior Advocate Sushil Kumar or ‘the sherwani clad’ as he is popularly known as, is one of the premier criminal lawyers in the country. Some famous and controversial cases to his name are 2G scam case; Common Wealth Games scam case; or the Parliament attack case.[xviii] “There are many who can get notice on an appeal but when it comes to final arguments on merits, one needs Kumar to get an acquittal” say his juniors. Mr. Kumar charges anywhere around 5-6 lakh ₹ per appearance[xix] with a guarantee to get an acquittal.[xx]
Also known as the savior of the Indian Constitution, next on our list is the former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Mr. Shanti Bhushan. His son Advocate Prashant Bhushan is also a designated senior advocate at the Supreme Court Bar. In 2009, the father-son duo had featured in the most powerful Indians list published by The Indian Express[xxi]. This 94-year-old stalwart charges not less than 4.5-6 lakh per appearance[xxii] with about one-fourth of his cases being done on pro bono basis. During his tenure as a Law Minister, he had introduced the 44th Constitutional Amendment which had repealed several unconstitutional provisions of the 42nd Amendment done by the then PM Mrs. Gandhi. He was also the counsel for Mr. Raj Narain for the case which changed the facet of Indian Democracy. He has represented various well-known faces in corruption and bomb blast cases. Currently, he and his son are facing several contempt of Court charges for criticizing the judiciary.[xxiii]
Next on our count is a Z+ security lawyer[xxiv] and Padma Shri[xxv] awardee Advocate Mr. Ujjwal Nikam. The criminal law specialist and the master of the court, Mr. Nikam is a man of few words. He is known for his calm but articulated cross-questioning and argumentation. In the span of his 30-year wide career, he has secured a record 6 death penalties[xxvi] and more than 300 life imprisonments. He is in great demand as a Special Public Prosecutor by the State and Central governments when it comes to crucial rape and murder cases. His notable appearances include the famous Gulshan Kumar[xxvii] and Pramod Mahajan Murder[xxviii] case; Marine Drive rape case[xxix]; Mumbai gang-rape case.[xxx]He enjoys media publicity and is very well knows how to use it in his client’s favor, for example in the case against Ajmal Kasab, he used the media to incite public outrage to influence the trial. He has also represented India at the UN convention on terrorism in 2010.[xxxi] When we talk about his litigation costs, it is startling to know that Mr. Nikam is very budget-friendly for his clients as he charges about charges ₹10 thousand for one hearing, whereas, the criminal lawyers of his caliber charge ₹5 lakh per hearing.
If one Googles about the best criminal lawyer in Maharashtra the one name that will definitely pop up is the Celebrity Lawyer Mr. Satish Manishinde, also known as the ‘Elsewhere junior of Ram Jethmalani’. He had recently made headlines when he was chosen to represent Miss Rhea Chakraborty, who has been accused of various criminal charges in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case.[xxxii]Also, he has been appointed as a Special Public Prosecutor in the Palghar Mob lynching case.[xxxiii] His golden period started after he tasted success in the Bombay blast case trial[xxxiv]. From a penniless law graduate from Karwar to one of the city’s top-notch lawyers, Satish Maneshinde’s has been a long, strange journey. He had worked for 10 years under Mr. Jethmalani and learnt the art of advocacy from the legend. His notable cases include Shoban Mehta’s match-fixing case; Salman Khan Drink-drive case, Chotta Rajan MCOCA case and many other high profile cases[xxxv]. He is one of the most costly criminal lawyers in the country at the moment, charging about 10 lakh ₹ per hearing.
Next up is the only female advocate in our list, Additional Solicitor General and Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court Ms. Pinky Anand. Since her time in Lady Shriram College she was into student politics and became the first woman Secretary[xxxvi] of the DU Students Union. She is a Harvard graduate and Inlaks Scholar[xxxvii]. A member of National Human Rights Commission, Ms. Anand is an avid writer and debater and one would regularly see her on leading news channel debate panels. In 2018, Vice President of India Mr. Naidu had launched her book ‘Trials of Truth’, the book deals with the top controversial criminal cases in the Indian criminal law history[xxxviii]. If one wants to hire her for her legal services, they should be ready to shell out anywhere around 2-3 lakh ₹[xxxix] per hearing. Her landmark appearances include representing the French Government in the French Carrier Clemenceau case[xl]; Actress Khushbu defamation case[xli] etc. She is an inspiration for every girl in India who wishes to join the profession, which till today is considered as an only-men profession.
Kapil Sibal is a name every Indian has heard at least once in their lifetime. If one starts reading about his achievements, days would pass in doing so. Very few people know that Mr. Sibal had cleared the prestigious Union Public Service Commission exam but later declined the offer and set up his private practice. The three-time Supreme Court Bar President[xlii] is equally active in politics, he has held various important ministries such as the IT Ministry[xliii] and Law Ministry[xliv] in different Congress regimes. He is one of the best and most expensive advocates in the present times with his per day legal fee[xlv] being 5- 16 lakh ₹ making him the most expensive advocate in our list. With such fame and success comes a bit of controversy, In January this year, he was accused of taking money from Popular Front of India in relation to the anti-CAA protests[xlvi]. Be it triple-talaq or Ayodhya dispute[xlvii], He is seen defending the minority party and has always faced criticism for hurting religious and political sentiments of the majority. The client list of Mr. Sibal includes politicians, actors and industrialists etc.
Mukul Awadh Behari Rohatgi is the former Attorney General of India[xlviii] and Senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India. He is an alumnus of the esteemed Government Law College, Bombay. His father was a judge at the Delhi High Court[xlix] and in the initial years of his practice he worked under Ex-Chief Justice Mr. Yogesh Kumar Sabharwal and later started his independent practice.[l] His notable cases include 2002 Gujarat riot case[li]; Best Bakery case[lii]; Judge Loya case. Even after stepping down from the position of AG, the Government of India regularly hires him for various constitutional and commercial law matters. The Government of Maharashtra had paid him whopping 1.21 crore for his service in the controversial Judge Loya case. The ex-AG had recently made headlines when he was engaged by the Bihar Government to oppose Rhea Chakraborty’s plea in the Supreme Court in the Sushant Singh Rajput Suicide case.[liii] His per appearance fee is about 5 lakh ₹[liv] and his art of advocacy is a justification for this price.
“The views of the authors are personal“
[i] V. Venkatesan, Fair and impartial, Frontline India’s National Magazine, November 16, 2012, https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article30189446.ece
[ii] 2G Scam: Government to respond in the Supreme Court today, The Economic Times, November 18, 2010, https://m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/2g-scam-government-to-respond-in-supreme-court-today/articleshow/6945882.cms
[iii] PTI, Jessica Lall murder case: Chronology of events, The Hindu, November 12, 2016, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Jessica-Lall-murder-case-Chronology-of-events/article11193647.ece
[iv] Republic, These are India’s Highest-paid lawyers, Republic Citizen Service Centre, July 25, 2019, http://republicone.one/these-are-indias-highest-paid-lawyers/
[v] PTI, National Conference Engages Gopal Subramanium To Defend Article 35-A, NDTV, August 27, 2019, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/national-conference-nc-engages-gopal-subramanium-to-defend-article-35-a-in-supreme-court-1906570
[vi] HT, Doubted only Gopal Subramanium’s suitability: Govt, Hindustan Times, June 26, 2014, https://wwiw.hindustantimes.com/inda/doubted-only-gopal-subramanium-s-suitability-govt/story-09tZyyR665nX2tCF5j8uWJ.html
[vii] Kian Ganz, Breaking: Senior counsel Sidharth Luthra accepts ASG appointment, LegallyIndia, July 06, 2012, https://www.legallyindia.com/the-bench-and-the-bar/breaking-senior-counsel-sidharth-luthra-accepts-asg-appointment-20120706-2938
[viii] Jeevan Prakash Sharma, Criminal law is a great career option for students: Sidharth Luthra, hindustantimes, May 29, 2015, https://www.hindustantimes.com/education/criminal-law-is-a-great-career-option-for-students-sidharth-luthra/story-eqFBTgywjK1uH3d4owhqjI.html
[ix] TNN, Jaitly whips up fresh storm over Tehelka, The Times Of India, November 26, 2002, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Jaitly-whips-up-fresh-storm-over-Tehelka/articleshow/29498504.cms
[x] Nikhil Kanekal & Surabhi Agarwal, Facebook, Google, others summoned, LiveMint, January, 14, 2012, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/9nJ6FE75VxTEoVI0emCgVP/Facebook-Google-others-summoned.html
[xi] Murali Krishnan, Sidharth Luthra for Jaitley, Ram Jeth for Kejriwal in criminal defamation case , Bar&Bench, December 22, 2015, https://www.barandbench.com/news/siddharth-luthra-for-jaitley-ram-jeth-for-kejriwal-in-criminal-defamation-read-excerpts-from-the-petition
[xii] Nakshab Khan, Supreme Court Reserves Its Verdict in Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case, News18, March 27, 2017, https://www.news18.com/news/india/supreme-court-reserves-verdict-on-appeals-in-december-16-gangrape-case-1364889.html
[xiv] infra at 38
[xv] India’s criminal justice system on life support: KTS Tulsi, The Tribune, July 30, 2020, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/ludhiana/india-s-criminal-justice-system-on-life-support-kts-tulsi-643843
[xvi] 10 highest-paid lawyers in India, India TV, July 29, 2020, https://www.indiatvnews.com/lifestyle/news-these-are-the-10-highest-paid-lawyers-in-india-375827
[xvii] Sreenivasan Jain and Manas Roshan, Haryana Paid Rs 5.5 Crore as Legal Fees For a Single Case, NDTV, February 26, 2015, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/haryana-paid-rs-5-5-crore-as-legal-fees-for-a-single-case-742292
[xviii] Gyanant Singh, Meet India’s supermen in black: When people like Robert Vadra get into trouble, only a handful of lawyers are called to bail them out, India Today, October 21, 2012, https://www.indiatoday.in/opinion/gyanant-singh/story/meet-india-supermen-in-black-119234-2012-10-21
[xix] Mohammed GA, Top 10 Criminal lawyers in India and what makes them stand out, ipleaders, February 28, 2017, https://blog.ipleaders.in/top-10-criminal-lawyers-india-makes-stand/
[xxi] Raghav Bahl, The most powerful indians in 2009: 70-74, The Indian Express, March 9, 2009, https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/print/the-most-powerful-indians-in-2009-7074/
[xxii] Prachi Shrivastava, How much do Delhi’s top advocates charge?, LiveMint,September 16, 2015, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/BvOZE6z7Oyl6LiHZxWVlzL/How-much-do-Delhis-top-advocates-charge.html
[xxiii] Bhadra Sinha, SC to begin hearing decade-old contempt case against Prashant Bhushan from 4 August, The Print, July 24, 2020, https://theprint.in/judiciary/sc-to-begin-hearing-decade-old-contempt-case-against-prashant-bhushan-from-4-august/467328/
[xxiv] PTI, Despite Z+ Security, Lawyer Ujjwal Nikam’s Cell Phones Stolen From Train, NDTV, June 06, 2017, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/despite-z-security-lawyer-ujjwal-nikams-cell-phones-stolen-from-train-1708754
[xxv] Swati Deshpande, Advocate Ujjwal Nikam receives Padma Shri from President, The Times Of India, April 12, 2016, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Advocate-Ujjwal-Nikam-receives-Padma-Shri-from-President/articleshow/51800069.cms
[xxvi] Devparna Acharya, Ujjwal Nikam and death penalties: With Ankur Panwar’s sentencing, SPP secures 6th death penalty of career, Firstpost, September 07, 2017, https://www.firstpost.com/india/ujjwal-nikam-and-death-penalties-with-ankur-panwars-modsentencing-spp-secures-6th-death-penalty-of-career-2996254.html
[xxvii] TNN, Gulshan murder accused gets life term, The Times Of India, April 30, 2002, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Gulshan-murder-accused-gets-life-term/articleshow/8407094.cms
[xxviii] Agencies, Pramod Mahajan murder: Pravin gets life term, India today, December 18, 2007,https://www.indiatoday.in/latest-headlines/story/pramod-mahajan-murder-pravin-gets-life-term-21713-2007-12-18
[xxix] Bureau, Ujjwal Nikam appointed PP in Marine Drive rape case, ZEE News, July 13, 2005,https://zeenews.india.com/home/ujjwal-nikam-appointed-pp-in-marine-drive-rape-case_228397.html
[xxx] Mumbai gang-rape: All 5 accused arrested, case to be tried in fast-track court, ZEE News, August 26, 2013, http://www.z.24taas.com/news/maharashtra/mumbai-gang-rape-all-5-accused-arrested-case-to-be-tried-in-fast-track-court_871501.html
[xxxi] PTI, Nikam to represent India at United Nations’ convention on terrorism, Hindustan times, November 29, 2010,https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/nikam-to-represent-india-at-united-nations-convention-on-terrorism/story-Uht4GFpEZfz8nN1R7OBdJO.html
[xxxii] Team EastMojo, Rhea Chakraborty hires celebrity lawyer Satish Maneshinde to defend her, EASTMOJO, July 30, 2020,https://www.eastmojo.com/national/2020/07/30/rhea-chakraborty-hires-celebrity-lawyer-satish-maneshinde-to-defend-her
[xxxiii] PTI, Satish Maneshinde appointed special PP in lynching case, Outlook THE NEWS SCROLL, June 30, 2020, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/satish-maneshinde-appointed-special-pp-in-lynching-case/1881589
[xxxiv] Lokmat English Desk, Satish Manishinde to defend Rhea Chakraborty, Lokmat English, July 29, 2020, https://english.lokmat.com/entertainment/salman-khans-lawyer-satish-maneshinde-to-defend-rhea-chakraborty-in-sushant-singh-rajputs-death-case/
[xxxv] infra at 39
[xxxvi] Pinky Anand, In memory of Justice Ajay Kumar Tripathi, SundayGuardianLive, May 16, 2020, https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/legally-speaking/memory-justice-ajay-kumar-tripathi
[xxxviii] India Education Diary Bureau Admin, Vice President releases the book ‘Trials of Truth’, India Education Diary.com, February 13, 2018, https://indiaeducationdiary.in/vice-president-releases-book-trials-truth/
[xxxix] Prachi Srivastava, Which 9 top lawyers easily charge Rs 15+ lakh per hearing? 42 Delhi seniors’ fees revealed, LegallyIndia, September 08, 2015, https://www.legallyindia.com/the-bench-and-the-bar/revealed-delhi-rsquo-s-top-advocates-won-rsquo-t-even-touch-your-case-for-less-than-rs-5-lakh-20150908-6555
[xl] Kanika Tyagi, Know About The Eminent Lawyer Ms. Pinky Anand!, Redifynow.com, November 10, 2016, https://readifynow.com/eminent-lawyer-ms-pinky-anand/#:~:text=Anand%2C%20her%20life%20changing%20court,fighting%20against%20GM%20Food%20invasion.
[xli] HT Correspondent, Pre-marital sex not an offence: SC, Hindustantimes, April 30, 2010, https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi/pre-marital-sex-not-an-offence-sc/story-UZnNNXtLxxM3lWjsHfsLrM.html
[xlii] http://www.scbaindia.org/Web/aspx/Committee member.aspx
[xliii] Devesh Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad: This Lawyer Replaces Kapil Sibal in the Telecom Ministry, NDTV, May 27, 2014, https://www.ndtv.com/people/ravi-shankar-prasad-this-lawyer-replaces-kapil-sibal-in-the-telecom-ministry-564036
[xliv] Kapil Sibal gets additional charge of law ministry, CP Joshi is railway minister, The Economic Times, May, 11, 2013, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/kapil-sibal-gets-additional-charge-of-law-ministry-cp-joshi-is-railway-minister/articleshow/20001631.cms
[xlv] infra at 30
[xlvi] India Today webdesk, Lawyers Kapil Sibal, Indira Jaising reject claims PFI paid them for anti-CAA protests, INDIA TODAY, January 27, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/kapil-sibal-indira-jaising-pfi-caa-funding-allegations-1640648-2020-01-27
[xlvii] Gunja Kapoor, Kapil Sibal’s three strikes bring political embarrassment for Congress, The Print, December 6, 2017,https://theprint.in/opinion/kapil-sibals-three-strikes-bring-political-embarrassment-for-congress/20724/
[xlviii] HT Correspondent, Mukul Rohatgi appointed new attorney general, hindustan times, June 13, 2014, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/mukul-rohatgi-appointed-new-attorney-general/story-igzzdH4OAozEFIrSgS9hnJ.html
[xlix] Debayan Roy, Mukul Rohatgi Resigns as Attorney General; Salve, Kumar Top Contenders, News18 India, June 11, 2017, https://www.news18.com/news/india/agi-mukul-rohatgi-declines-extension-of-service-wants-to-return-to-private-practice-1429337.html
[l] ET Bureau, Mukul Rohatgi is the new Attorney General of India, The Economic Times, May 29, 2014, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/mukul-rohatgi-is-the-new-attorney-general-of-india/articleshow/35691857.cms
[li] Staff, 2002 Gujarat riots case: SC to hear Zakia Jafri’s plea against Modi’s clean chit, The Hindu, November 19, 2018, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/2002-gujarat-riots-case-sc-to-hear-zakia-jafris-plea-against-modis-clean-chit/article25541610.ece
[lii] Uttkarsh Anand, Remove prosecutor under cloud in Best Bakery trial: SC, The Indian Express, January 16, 2016, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/remove-prosecutor-under-cloud-in-best-bakery-trial-sc/
[liii] Webdesk, Bihar govt backs Sushant’s family, hires Mukul Rohatgi to oppose Rhea’s SC plea, THEWEEK, July 31, 2020, https://www.theweek.in/news/entertainment/2020/07/31/bihar-govt-backs-sushants-family-hires-mukul-rohatgi-to-oppose-rhea-sc-plea.html
[liv] Adv John, TOP 10 MOST EXPENSIVE LAWYERS WHO CHARGE A HUGE FEE IN INDIA IN 2017, PATHLEGAL, May 12, 2017, https://www.pathlegal.in/Top-10-Most-Expensive-Lawyers-Who-Charge-a-Huge-Fee-in-India-blog-1007204