By Basil Fernando –
Delays in justice as a key factor that destroyed the economic and political system.
Everybody’s talk during the last few months has been about the catastrophic economic crisis in the country and also the crisis of the political system. The link between the two has been well understood by everyone.
However, in the discussion of the causes, what is usually mentioned is about certain wrong decisions taken mainly by the present Government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and also earlier decisions which were taken to borrow money without a proper system for regenerating income and paying back the loans. As that matter has been rightly discussed at length and has more or less been well understood in the country, it is also time to go into deeper factors which made the neglect of the economy and the political system so disastrous to the country.
It is about one such factor that this article deals with. Although it is one of the factors to the disaster we are dealing with in Sri Lanka, it is perhaps one of the most important factors which made the neglectful behaviour of those who managed the economy and the political system possible. This factor is the extraordinary delays in the delivery of justice in Sri Lanka.
The argument is not that there was a delay in dealing with commercial disputes mainly. It is the delays in the adjudication relating to criminal justice that is much more important. This needs to be understood if the required changes in order to overcome the present state of neglect in the management of the economy and also the bitterly criticized defects of the political system are to be dealt with in any significant manner.
Criminal justice does not merely apply to murders, theft, robbery, rape and the like. It is the operation of criminal justice that makes the environment for creating a proper management in all public institutions within a country. The system of punishment for the failure to carry out basic duties can only be created by a properly functioning criminal justice system. If a system of punishment does not exist for the criminal neglect of duties, the consequence is that the discipline within the public institutions will break down. That the discipline in all public institutions in Sri Lanka has broken down is a fact that everyone is complaining about not only in this critical time but also over a long period of time.
Impunity for Financial Crimes
Thus, impunity does not merely imply the failure to hold the culprit of a certain crime liable. In fact, it applies to the failure to hold all who are guilty of criminal neglect to be held liable.
While in Sri Lanka, criminal justice is an area that is very much limited to what we call ordinary crimes in developed economies, more emphasis is made on the crimes which are relating to finances and matters like corruption and the abuse of power. However, those who are responsible for such acts are not the ordinary people but mostly people who hold high positions and who belong to a different social status. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, the criminal justice system did not develop to hold those who are holding higher positions and also those who belong to more fortunate income routes to be brought under criminal justice except on very rare occasions. This limitation of the criminal justice system is one of the very important factors that have contributed to the breakdown of discipline within all public institutions.
There is an obvious reason as to why these persons from higher social status have been virtually left out of the purview of criminal justice. This is due to other things such as the ability of those who are more affluent to challenge any accusation brought against them by the use of their relatively stronger economic strength and also due to social influence. Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is a very weak one. Its’ capacities for investigations are quite limited. Even from the point of view of training and also the facilities available for inquiries into more serious finance related crime is rather poor. Although modern technology has provided enormous possibilities for better investigations into financial crimes, this area of criminal investigations into finance related crimes has not received a priority within the policing system.
However, the greater cause for the inability to develop a proper criminal justice system lies in the displacement of the principle of the rule of law as the most important fundamental premise on which the entire criminal justice system should have been rooted. Particularly since the introduction of Republican Constitutions, the foundational notion of the rule of law has been displaced.
It is within this context that a highly confused system of criminal justice has developed in Sri Lanka. The major factor that helps the perpetuation of this weak and untrustworthy criminal justice system is the delays in justice. Through the manipulation of delays in justice, it is possible to derail any attempt to hold people liable for serious crimes in every area of life.
Impact On Public Institutions
Thus, delays in criminal justice are not merely a matter of inconvenience. It is a matter of the highest importance in order to maintain a properly functioning public institution which guarantees the possibility of having a credible system of managing an economy. It is also the precondition for holding those who are engaged in political life liable for any form of abuse of power or corruption.
In these times when the need for a system change has become a major demand, it is essential to consider not merely what outwardly appears as the most obvious economic issues and political system issues but it is also to connect these matters to the overall system within which the administration of justice completely rests. Overcoming the delays in justice is an essential ingredient for a proper functioning economic system as well as a political system.