5 December, 2023

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BASL Comes Within The Right To Information Act, RTI Commission Rules 

The Right to Information Commission of Sri Lanka (RTIC) has declined to accept the position of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) that data on inquiries into complaints against attorneys-at-law is ‘confidential’. 

Former BASL President Saliya Pieris PC

In a ruling handed down this Tuesday (29th August 2023), the Commission directed the BASL to release the information asked by a citizen, Kamal Vithanage, including procedures adopted by BASL in respect of disciplinary inquiries.

The five member Commission remarked that, principles of transparency and accountability relate to the BASL in as much as these same principles underline the conducting of public activities by the BASL, including conferences and seminars in furtherance of promoting and fostering the Rule of Law.   

The position of the BASL that its Constitution furnished only to the Commission during the hearings of the appeal on the basis of ‘Strict Confidentiality’ by a formal letter of the BASL President at the time, Saliya Pieris, PC, was noted to be unacceptable. 

‘We fail to understand the rationale on which the Constitution of the respondent, a key professional body in Sri Lanka and the procedures that it adopts in regard to disciplining its members can be construed as ‘Strictly Confidential,’ the Commission said.  

The RTI Commission further observed that, ‘In this appeal, the appellant is requesting what may legitimately be referred to as ‘routine’ information; viz, firstly, the action taken by the respondent in regard to several complaints filed by him as detailed thereto including the expedition of complaints categorized as ‘serious’ and secondly, statistical data regarding complaints/petitions received by the respondent against attorneys-at-law during 2011- 2020’.

Considering the same, it was concluded that ‘considerations of secrecy’ do not apply to such information but ‘rather this is information that may be proactively disclosed by the respondent in the public interest’.  

The argument of Counsel for the BASL before the Commission that, the BASL functions purely for the ‘benefit’ of its members, on account of it being a ‘voluntary’ organization of attorney and that an attorney-at-law is not mandatorily required to be a member of the respondent unlike the case in other countries and that the BASL as an entity, is distinct from individual attorneys-at-law who enter the profession, was dismissed by the RTI Commission.

It was ruled that BASL came within the definition of Article 43 (i) of the RTI Act on the basis of  direct/indirect ‘material support’ that it recieved from international organizations. 

The Commission also decided that, the information requested relates ‘to a service that is rendered to the public’ and which is ‘important in the public interest’ with no bar to release.

The BASL has been given time till 29th September 2023 to release the information with the Commission stating that, after the deadline, its Director General will be instructed to commence proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court for non-compliance to the Commission order.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Professional outfits like the BASL usually try to negotiate special terms for their members. After all, that’s what they are there for. How can the law apply to an association of lawyers? Unthinkable!
    A back-scratching network exists too, where lawyers connive among themselves to drag out a case, so that they can milk the clients (all in cash, naturally). The solution to that is to make cash payments for services illegal, as in some countries like Australia. But how to get that through Parliament, many of whose members are lawyers?
    The same applies to the GMOA membership, now grumbling about taxes here, but quite happy to pay taxes in Australia.

    • 4
      0

      oc
      Essentially true.
      Professionals tend to be very unprofessional when there is no monitoring mechanism in place.
      Making cash payments illegal can be ducked too. Where there is a will there is a way and that is why they have ‘binami’

      • 0
        0

        SJ,
        The RTI Commission itself is one of Ranil’s achievements, something which he isn’t credited with by the likes of Dr. Ali and his current acolyte for Bandarawela.

    • 5
      0

      old codger

      Why cannot the Inland Revenue make it a point to periodically open Inquiry/Investigation into every individual’s total asset increase and how it was financed? I understand Tax Officers are well looked after by Tax payers.
      Lets start at the very beginning, investigate for accumulation of disproportionate assets compared to declared income. Every functionary, every member of state department, politician, …. …… successful politician, ….

    • 2
      0

      soma

      Where are you?
      I need a help from you!!!!!

      The Academics, Politicians, Journalists, News papers, Members of Armed forces, Saffronistas, Crooks, Laymen, …. sometimes talk about sovereignty of this country.
      What is it?
      Do we benefit from sovereignty and how?
      Where did they get it from?

      Today The Morning in its editorial discussed the relation between
      Sovereignty and economy.
      https://www.themorning.lk/articles/J93kqwt2BdniMClODe9Y

      Please explain to us the very idea of Sovereignty, how it is benefiting us …. Where did we get it from, …. ..
      Don’t get me wrong I am only trying learn.

      Do you enjoy benefit accruing from Sovereignty ?
      Do the minorities enjoy benefit accruing from Sovereignty?
      And how?

      Make it simple so that I too can understand.

  • 1
    0

    This is an interesting case, not rather on the in depth of matter, but by the parties involved. The RTI decided the woodcutters’ axe handle is the property of the tree. So, the cutter must ask permission from the tree to use the handle. Because BASL is a member’s club, demand for information is going to prevail, irrelevant of the fact that she/he has to be a member by the country’s law.
    “on account of it being a ‘voluntary’ organization of attorney and that an attorney-at-law is not mandatorily required to be a member of the respondent unlike the case in other countries and that the BASL as an entity, is distinct from individual attorneys-at-law who enter the profession, was dismissed by the RTI Commission.” Point bank shot of the Commission at BASL.
    Then, does this jeopardize the secrecy of any member club in the country? Here is how the BASL fell into the net. “It was ruled that BASL came within the definition of Article 43 (i) of the RTI Act on the basis of direct/indirect ‘material support’ that it received from international organizations.

    • 2
      0

      Malli
      There are in fact honest lawyers. Like the ones who are members of the RTI Commission. Maybe there are honest doctors too?

  • 1
    0

    Here it says that BASL consulted some international organizations, so being asked about its members administration details, not on what it consulted from the international consultants, it appears. Here the RTI only came through the backdoor but has outrightly ruled the decorations on the front door are too attractive to the municipality’s building codes.

    Then it said it cannot be questioned how it entered into the house, but relevant is, RTI was unnecessarily attracted by the decorations on the front door.
    Here is what is on the front door: “Considering the same, it was concluded that ‘considerations of secrecy’ do not apply to such information but ‘rather this is information that may be proactively disclosed by the respondent in the public interest’. “
    Is this an indication that the RTI is evolving into a Godzilla to peep into the sleeping room of the couple breaking the windows on the concrete house?

    Can this be interpreted as applicable on foreign Investments in Langkang? Can the foreign investor be asked to release all his/her technical know-how because there was some foreign direct/indirect support for that operation. If that know-how was used to serve the public, so transparency is material in that operation?

  • 1
    0

    The Bar Association of Sri Lanka should also be subject to the rules of the RTI Commission just as is the case with other government institutions. Don’t the lawyers believe in accountability and transparency? Why should there be special immunity for only this body? Considering that its members are the bane of all litigants, especially those fighting civil cases, why should they feel entitled to privileges like this?

    • 1
      0

      Captain,
      This is the law; there is a clear demarcation of who is in & who is out. I don’t like RTI to lose its teeth or become part of the Langkang court system. I believe it should watch the path it walks on. Langkang governments any time would make the RTI act (Constitution) as another ICCPR. If RTI is the child, BASL is the mother. Yes, we heard in the stories the son or the daughter judges sending the mother to prison, but it was not out of an adorable relationship, irrelevant of the crime and the law involved in those stories.
      Remember, minority MPs in parliament rejected PTA, CTA, Hate Speech, Election laws… but these are normally welcomed in other societies. Even America has affirmative action provisions, but we minority Tamils opposed standardization with our lives. Because this is a RavanaLE country and Sinhala Intellectuals steer it on the Path of the world’s most old democracy, Britain, no?

    • 1
      0

      There is a line in Tamil “Inpam Oru Naal Thunbam Enravar Yaar Thooli. Inbam Kanavail, Thunbam Ethiril varuvathu Ean Thooli”. (My dear companion who is that one said the happiness is one day in life and painful day is another time, If so, then why the happiness only come in dream, but the sadness only appear right in front you?”) Any comfort that comes out the benevolent laws passed by Appe Aanduwas Sinhala Intellectuals is only in dream! It’s all used to harass, prison, loot, rape and kill inside the prison cells. Tamils’ attitude “Pitchai Veadam Nayai Pidi” (We don’t want information, please repeal the RTI)

      I don’t feel “It was ruled that BASL came within the definition of Article 43 (i) of the RTI Act on the basis of direct/indirect ‘material support’ that it received from international organizations. “ is interpreted ideally to take BASL under the jurisdiction of RTI. This is pushing the envelope to make it as another ICCPR. BASL may be in connection with even ICJ. Why question that?

      Who here knows better in this case?

  • 0
    0

    To stop italics

  • 5
    2

    I see Upul Jayasuriya sitting with Saliya Peiris.

    This guy got the job of Chairman BOI from President Maithripala Sirisena . It was common knowledge BOI work went to his lawyer wife during this period.

    When even Sirisena could not tolerate Upul’s corruption with foreign investors and sacked him overnight.

    Now he is sitting with Saliya Peiris and talking about corruption !

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