Aug 29, 2017

‘BASL must respect citizens’ right to question, criticize the judicial service’

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka must respect the right of citizens to question and criticize the judicial service, says executive director of CaFFE and CHR Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon.

In a statement, Tennakoon is referring to a remark by BASL chairman UR de Silva that they will take legal action against MP Ranjan Ramanayake in the coming week for stating that attorneys are corrupt.

In any profession there are extremely clean and professional people as well as extremely corrupt practitioners. The same applies to the judicial service and Sri Lankan citizens have the right to criticize judges and attorneys, as they have the right to be critical of any other profession. There should be the freedom to do so and those being criticized must have the discipline to tolerate criticism.

MP Ramanayake's criticism is nothing new and it has been leveled against judges and attorneys by civil society activists, journalists and these criticisms have been discussed by attorneys themselves and the judicial services commission.

Former Editor of Ravaya, Mr. Victor Ivan revealed the activities of Judge Lenin Ratnayake which shocked and surprised many. The behaviour of justice Abeyratne was equally shocking. The revelations on former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva by Victor Ivan would have led to a cleanup of the judicial service in a country that possessed a civilized, democratic and transparent governance. President Maithripala Sirisena himself revealed that former chief justice Mohan Peiris told him that he is willing to give verdicts that favours the government, if he was allowed to remain in his post. CHR complained to the Judicial Services Commission about the appointment of DMI Dissanayake who received an appointment as a magistrate and after considering our appeal the Commission decided not to give him the permanent appointment. The Anti-Corruption Front lodged a complaint about the elephant theft allegations against magistrate Thilina Gamage and the manner in which he was granted bail was controversial. Now he has been suspended. Similar allegations were levelled against district judges Somaratne and Aravinda Perera and the Commission has taken steps regarding them. The reputation of the court was also damaged due to a series of allegations, including charges of sexual harassment, against Justice Sarath de Abrew, who committed suicide.

Ravaya has revealed that there were steps to change the presiding judge over the controversial 'sil redi' case. We must discuss what affects the judiciary more, obtaining judgments after changing judges? Lawyers who attempt to change judges or the statement given by MP Ramanayake. BASL was silent about the above mentioned incidents and did not intervene to clean up the system. However civil society activists, journalists and elected representatives are keeping this debate alive and MP Ramanayake has contributed to the discussion in his capacity.

Although BASL has forgotten of this case, the most discussed topic in the judicial sector is the conflict of interest situation regarding registrar of the Supreme Court Ms. Maheshi Jayawardane.   Her brother is a Justice and there were media reports that there were attempts to influence the verdicts of cases against powerful people. This allegation tarnishes the reputation of the judiciary.

How can a statement made by a MP and an actor, known as One Shot, a Justice Seeker, be more damaging to the judiciary than any of the things mentioned above?

A responsible society does not shoot the messenger. It understands the message and takes steps to make things better. We must consider with an open mind whether the MP Ramanayake’s statement is more damaging than the opinions on Sarath N Silva and Mohan Peiris expressed by many prominent Sri Lankans. Did Ramanayake do more damage than allegations of conflict of interest faced by the Registrar of the Supreme Court?

No, it does not!

To enhance the respectability and trust on the judicial service we must drain this swamp as the former Ravaya Editor says and we iterate the importance of BASL being a part of the solution.