By Basil Fernando –
This article is an attempt to demonstrate that the occurrence of serious crimes in Sri Lanka, could be drastically reduced by doubling the number of High Courts since only the High Courts have the jurisdiction to conduct trials regarding serious crimes. However, prolonged delays in adjudication has undermined the effectiveness of these courts acting towards discouraging criminals from committing crimes, and fearing the capacity of the State to enforce effective punishments.
Increasing the number of High Courts, is an essential measure for reducing serious crimes. It is suggested that the number of such courts should be doubled at the very least. This together with hearing of trials on day to day basis could make a dramatic change to end delays of adjudication.
This measure aimsto address the most difficult issue in the criminal justice field in Sri Lanka: the delay in adjudication. It is simply impossible to create a significant change in this situation without increasing the number of High Courts where the trials for serious crimes take place.
As there are 28 High Courts existing at present, increasing this number will not create a great burden on the government’s finances.
By increasing of High Courts it is implied that the number of High Court judges and the Court staff and the necessary material and infrastructure resources as well as the premises need to be provided. And all this will not create an unbearable burden on the Government’s finances.
However, the impact of implementing this proposal will be immense.
On one hand, it will significantly resolve the problem of delays in the adjudication of criminal trials. Thus, while the change will immediately take place in the High Courts, it will set a tempo for change throughout the court system, as well as in the other institutions such as the Attorney General’s Department and the police.
The most significant achievement that could take place through this change is a major reduction in serious crime in Sri Lanka. This is based on the view that delay in the adjudication in criminal trials is the major cause for the increase in crimes in Sri Lanka. It is also is based on how the theory of deterrence works in terms of crimes. Speedy adjudication ensures that there would be speedy punishment of cases where the accused are found guilty. It is a universally accepted norm in criminal justice that certainty of punishment is the greatest deterrence against crimes. Delays in criminal trials mean the absence of such certainty. And it also means creating the hope for criminals to escape from punishment due to various extraneous factors that may result from such delays. In any event, even if a person is found guilty after such a delayed trial, the impact of the punishment will be much less than the impact of punishment meted out within a reasonable time. One reason for this is that by the timethe accused is found guilty of committing a particular crime the memory of that crime would have already been lost due to the prolonged delay. This is what invariably happens in Sri Lanka. The social impact of punishment depends much on the impression that such a punishment would make on the people who have heard about such crime and who would expect such crime not to go unpunished. However, the memory of the crime itself and even such expectations are forgotten as a result of prolonged delay.
Thus, taking a significant step by way of increasing the number of High Courts, this long held curse of prolonged delays can be brought to an end, to a great degree. As a result, people who hear about crimes will also hear within a reasonable time that the criminals have been found and have been punished.
Naturally, the greatest impact would be on the criminals themselves. The prolonged delays, as it exists in Sri Lanka now, has created an impression among the criminals that they have a greater likelihood of escaping punishment, and that in any case their liberty will not be in jeopardy for a long time to come. Naturally, the knowledge of such delays will bring quite a lot of joy to the minds of criminals who are contemplating commission of serious crimes. Such hopes can be dashed by creating the possibilities of speedy trials within Sri Lanka.
The decrease in serious crimes will have enormous impact in the form of enhancing mental health in Sri Lanka. The ease with which crime takes place is one of the major causes for anxiety among the people. The people fear the threat to their lives and that of their loved ones as well as the threat to their property. Increasing the number of High Courts in Sri Lanka could significantly reduce this.
Among the beneficiaries of speedy trials are the vulnerable groups, such as women and children, in particular. It is a daily complaint heard that rape and sexual abuse have increased in great proportions in Sri Lanka. Delays in criminal trials have contributed to this insecurity. Due to this insecurity, in a great many instances, women and parents often do not even make complaints to lawful authorities about being victims of crime. The people who suffer in silence are many. This culture of silence can be broken if a measure such as the increase of High Courts is taken, and this results in speedy trials.
Such a measure will also have a great impact on the Attorney General’s Department and the Department of the Police Services. Both these departments are considered in low esteem, mainly due to the fact that they are unable to convince the people that they have the will and capacity to bring criminals to book. The result isa great demoralisation among the staff of these institutions. Speeding up of trials into serious crimes will encourage the better elements of these institutions to emerge and thus create an attitudinal change among the staff of these institutions.
If a change is achieved in the performance of High Courts, it will have a definite impact on other courts. It will create an impetus for working with greater energy and for achieving better results. In fact, the entire engine of criminal justice may receive a great push towards improvement if this singular measure of the increase of the number of High Courts were to take place soon.
Naturally, this will create a demand for better resources, from within the entire system itself. The age-old lethargy and apathy in all the institutions related to the justice sector could be significantly reduced.
The overall impact will be also felt within the political system. Today, the people also look upon the political system with great cynicism. This system seems to be connected with crime, either through direct involvement of politicians in crime or their indirect patronage. As speedy trials into serious cases will adversely affect the narcotics trade and the other crimes such as money laundering, it will have a direct impact on the political system.
For example had there been a possibility of speedy trials, serious crimes in Sri Lanka, such as the type of crimes that the Rajapaksa regime is accused of engaging in, may not have taken place at all or taken place to a limited extent only. Those who are talking about ending the type of political culture represented by the Rajapaksa regime should seriously reflect upon the means by which those aims can be achieved.
One of the means is to increase the number of High Courts in Sri Lanka and thereby create the possibility of speedy trials into serious crimes becoming an actuality. Thus, the increase in the number of High Courts will have an impact on the overall criminal justice system in Sri Lanka, as well as on the entire social ethos of the country, including its political system.
Therefore, we hope that this singular measure of the increase of the number of High Courts in Sri Lanka will receive the attention of the government leaders, its policy makers, as well as all the opinion makers in Sri Lanka including the civil society and the mass media.