23 September, 2020

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Conflict Of Interest On HRCSL Member Pieris Applying For And Getting ‘Silk’

Saliya Pieris/ Photo via Facebook Gamini Hettiarachchi

Serious questions are being asked in both the legal and human rights community about the conflict of interest arising due to member of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka lawyer Saliya Pieris applying and obtaining the honorary title of ‘President’s Counsel’ from President Maithripala Sirisena in recent weeks.

In terms of the Constitution, the President is given the entire discretion as to whom he may name as ‘PC” once applications are made to him. The PCs List is chosen on the arbitrary executive preference of some lawyers over others. Outrage arose in regard to this years’ list which listed several ‘yahapalayana lawyers’ to whom the conferral of the honour was seen as a political reward. The selections were also gender discriminatory. Not a single woman lawyer was listed among the several new PCs who were appointed.      

Pieris was already serving as a member of the HRCSL at the time that he made the application for PC and President Sirisena appointed him. Earlier, he had been appointed a member of the HRCSL after submitting his application to the Constitutional Council and upon the CC recommending his appointment to the President. The HRCSL has a statutory mandate to monitor the compliance of government bodies with constitutional protections on fundamental rights and to inquire into and investigate, complaints regarding infringements or imminent infringements of fundamental rights by state actors. The executive arm of the State is a key focus of that monitoring process. 

Questions have therefore arisen as to how can a member of the HRCSL which is supposed to act as a fetter to prevent abuse of power by the executive could be seen as applying for a favour for the conferral of ‘silk’ from the very executive which the body of which is a member, is supposed to monitor? This leads to an obvious conflict of interest and puts the very legitimacy of the HRCSL in doubt, a senior lawyer said. Is there not an inference that the member of the HRCSL would thereafter be beholden to the President for the ‘honour’ conferred upon him, he questioned.

When asked for his opinion, a human rights activist pointed out that Pieris should step down from his role as a member of the HRCSL. This is a matter that is not only morally improper but amounts to a conflict that lessens the independence of the HRCSL as a body and affects its functioning, he said.  The members of HRCSL should not only be above suspicion but must be seen to be above suspicion as well, he observed.        

    

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Latest comments

  • 2
    3

    Well argued, yes he must resign, he is a good lawyer though.

  • 1
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    These are the people who talk about “good governance”, aiyo PC Saliya !

  • 1
    5

    Very sad Mr. Pereis. You have money, you have a good practice, what do u want more?

    • 1
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      This is an honour bestowed upon lawyers with over 10 years practice. Like the Queen’s Counsels before this an application is made to the Head of the government at one time the Queen or the King of Great Britain and the honour of wearing a silk was given only to the best lawyers. No Sanjeewa Semasinghe or what ever that jokers name is has not been in a courthouse in a decade and cannot be considered a good lawyer but applied and was not given the honour. Now I hear he is moving towards the MR clan just like Aloy Ratnayake did. He was a UNPer who Premadasa ridiculed because in fact as a State’s Counsel he did sit in the AG’s department and sign charge sheets. He moved over to the blind woman’s camp and was awarder the PC “kama”. That is how bad things got under the Kumaratunga government. Later on he wanted an interview published in the Ist page of the Daily New<s by veteran Ravi Laduhetty claiming that he had gone for a pee or he would have thrown his body over hers and saved her from getting her eye blown off by Mister Prabhakaran's suicide bomber! Three days later when was kicked out of the Chairmanship of the Lake House because Chandrika allowed fair good looking men to climb over her body not a man who resembled a diabetic ape!

      • 0
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        ​Two dozen more Presidents Counsel have been appointed. According to my layman’s point of view this is unconstitutional as there is a conflict between two clauses, 27.6 and 33.(e). Its my contention that 27.6 should take precedence.

        OPE (Organisation of Professionally Emasculated) members covering all the professions seem to endure the discrimination and indignity.

        Unconstitutionality of PRESIDENTS COUNSEL

        Appointment of President’s Counsel

        Appointment of President’s Counsel under the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, thus conferring an unfair privilege discriminating against the other professionals.

        In fact lawyers number just over 14000.

        Rest of the professionals numbering few hundred thousand are not recognized. These include academics, medical profession, scientists, architects, economists, bankers etc. (Mainly members of OPE)

        The practice of appointment of Queen’s Counsel ceased with the adoption of 1972 constitution on 22nd May 1972. The appellation changed to Senior Attorney-at-Law. 1978 constitution maintained the same position. Prior to the 1972 constitution it was a tradition onoly, though unfair.

        Then 12 years later the 8th Amendment was pushed through on 6th March 1984 empowering the President to appoint President’s Counsel. The amendment mentions the colonial appendage Queen’s Counsel. Don’t we know that we shed shackles of colonialism with 1972 constitution? Lawyers cannot even talk of an unbroken tradition.

        Directive Principles of State Policy.

        27.(6) The State shall ensure equality of opportunity to citizens, so that no citizen shall suffer any disability on the ground of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion or occupation.

        Recognition afforded to Lawyers is discriminatory as other professionals are not considered for such recognition.

        In the 19th Amendment the 8thamendment text is reintroduced as Article 33 (e).

        Article 33 (e)

        To appoint as President’s Counsel, attorneys–‐at–‐law who have reached eminence in the profession and have maintained high standards of conduct and professional rectitude. Every President’s Counsel appointed under this paragraph shall be entitled to all such privileges as were hitherto enjoyed by Queen’s Counsel;

        J K Wijedasa

        P.s. for the last 15 years I have highlighted this anomaly in the press. Not a single LAWYER with ANALYTICAL MIND DARED REBUT…

        • 0
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          Dear Mr Wijedasa.

          Two words. Entirely agree.

          Pandu

  • 2
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    When one does something wrong and it is pointed out, one must have the grace to keep one’s mouth shut without trying and defending it. This is the problem with these characters. Who was Saliya Peiris? It is common knowledge in Hulfsdorp that he appeared for accused police officers in fundamental rights cases! How can he then be qualified to be appointed as a member of the Human Rights Commission? Then after being appointed there, he now applies for and gets PC from the very President whose conduct he is supposed to monitor!!

    This is typical. After the Bar Association sent a letter to the President asking for a lawyer in Batticoloa to be appointed as a High Court judge and the wrong conduct was drawn to their attention, they refused to admit that that did anything wrong! Mr Saliya was an office bearer of BASL.

    Last week, after having the lack of decency to ‘jollyfy’ in five-star hotels when hundreds were dying from their floods, he got furious when he was questioned. Now, even on this problem of conflict of interest, he and his pals will say ‘what conflict’?!

    What is the difference between these PC Weli-amuna/s and PC Sali-ya/s and say as an example, PC Ali Sabri who flourished under Mahinda Rajapaka. I say in answer, ‘Very Little, Sirs! ‘

    This country is a very funny place.

    • 1
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      Hi Pandu: Well articulated. First and foremost – granting of PC’s appears to be “sole executive privilege” of the incumbent in office. In this instance – MS. In the UK, QC’s are “selected” based on certain laid down criteria. As to having any decency, our politicians lack all morals, humility and basic human instincts to do so. As you say this country is “very funny place” sadly we, the people who from time to time choose between Greens, Blues and whatever other color is are to take the blame for electing these baffoons!

      • 0
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        True, true, Nic.. let alone the UK, look at closer-at-home India.

        So little of these silly pretensions apply there. I heard there were more politicians than lawyers at these PC parties, including at Weli-amuna’s, our good ole corruption crusader. All ‘jollifying’ drinking Scotch and having prawn puffs while innocent people were dying in the floods.

        I like the occasional tipple and prawn puff myself but this is OBSCENE. Let us admit that. These are people who are supposed to preach on ‘good governance’ ?May the Triple Gem help us!

  • 0
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    The able Lawyer that he is Mr.Pieris will now argue that he will not allow his PCship to collide with his HRship.

  • 0
    1

    Corruption is a by product of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. If we get rid of them there wont be any corruption

    • 1
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      Ha Ha! That is a good one. Typical of ‘soft-in-the-head’ Jimmy.

  • 2
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    I don’t think that the job of the HRCSL is to monitor the executive or the President. The job basically is to uphold the human rights of the citizen. At this juncture I need not comment on the record of HRCSL on that score. Technically, by tradition, no KC or QC of the yester-year would appear against the King or the Queen of England personally. There is no expectation in the Constitution for PC to be beholden to the President.

    If we are talking in terms of Good Governance or “Yahapalanaya” then the process of appointing or granting the position of PC must be stream-lined and not merely at the discretion of the President, thus opening for the criticism of favouritism etc. political or otherwise. If the appointment of Superior Court judges require Constitutional Council consent, why not these appointments too be filtered by an acceptable process?

  • 2
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    There are so many in the Legal Profession who have not and do not “apply” to be a PC. Equally such Professionals are not concerned of being a PC. They do their Professional Tasks” with diligence and dignity. For some this “PC” position is an open door for a ” huge earning avenue” and a “honor driven and never ending greed”. Why? The very “selective and elective” process is tainted with “questionable” and “unethical” practices. One such person, if I am to name, was Late Mr. S.L.Gunasekera who never ever wanted to “apply” or “begged” for it; but the way he practiced was of very high standard and his devotion to social empowerment was par excellence. So, let this “PC” be there, but do not attach any “dignity” to it.

  • 0
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    Who will safeguard the human rights of Mr Pieris. Right to be a PC.

  • 1
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    In response to Douglas,
    Yes SL did not apply to be considered for PC. He gave two reasons
    First; one should not apply to be honored !
    Second you should be honored by an honorable!
    That was the time when Rajapaksha was the President of the country.
    However in the present batch of PCs there are three of them who never applied for PC. In the case of one, he was sent a form twice by the Presidential Secretariate and he refused to fill it and returned.
    Now for those who were saying that Doctors should also be considered for a similar honor!
    Oh my god!
    Shouldn’t it be Dr Pa…deniya and his coterie of accomplices be the first to get it for killing and or inconveniencing many members of public! all other doctors for not raising a finger against it should also be considered.

    • 0
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      Who has it for a certanity that ‘in the present batch of PCs there are three of them who never applied for PC. In the case of one, he was sent a form twice by the Presidential Secretariate and he refused to fill it and returned’?!!

      I am not willing to accept the mere ‘word’ of these characters on this All jockeying for so called prestige which does not matter a jot now as the public opinion about them is at the pitz !

      Your expln re SL Gunesekera is amusing. Do you know that my father (senior law academic) used to joke about when JRJ was asked as to why he was not a PC himself. JRJ’s classic reply was ‘I appoint these fellows.’!

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