By Upul Jayasuriya –
This day will go down in the history of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka as an unforgettable one as we have enhanced the capacity and its sustainability whilst maintaining our much treasured and cherished independence of the Bar. I take this opportunity to place on record my sincere gratitude to your Excellency Michele Sison and Mrs. HW Jayewardene for the contribution you have made to make this dream a reality.
Permit me to take this opportunity to perform a duty on behalf of the Bar. Hon. The Attorney General, this will be the last official function of the BASL, you will attend as the sitting Attorney General. We attended the same school since year 1 during our tender years. In the AGs dept., You were a ranker. Two years of your stewardship as the country’s Attorney General was a period of tremendous pressure. During your tenure you conducted yourself well. The last decision of yours in filing an appeal in the Khurams Rape and Murder case is a feather on your cap. Let me wish you a successful career in the unofficial Bar.
It is even more important that we are able to name this conference hall as the Dr.H.W. Jayewardene Q.C. Auditorium after Dr. H.W Jayewardene the 1st ever President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. His courage and unparalleled leadership qualities at a time the legal profession was under tremendous pressure from an intrusively interfering Minister of Justice who did every thing within his means to undermine the bench and the Bar should be admired.
The building of the Incorporated Law Society which now houses the Legal Aid Commission was acquired by the government. Mr. T.G Gunaratne was a Trustee of the Law Society. After the acquisition Mr. TG Gunaratne was invited by the Minister to take over as the Competent Authority of the Building. He was the additional State Attorney. But Mr.Gunaratne stubbornly refused to have anything to do with it. In a frontal attack on the Legal profession the Minister introduced the infamous Administration Justice Law in 1974 and fused the profession that consisted of Advocates and Proctors.
Dr. H.W. Jayewardene was the last Chairman of the Bar Council representing the Advocates.
The Minister did not stop with that, he even wanted the BASL crippled and urged all the members of the Attorney General’s Department who were in the Bar Council, including Mr. T.G Gunaratne, Mr. Ranjith Abeysuriya and Mr. Sunil De Silva to resign. Of course they were from the same school with the Motto “Disce Aut Discade” where Dr. Jayewardene too had his education. Decades later the present Attorney General, The Deputy President, secretary and myself have had the privilege of being students of the same school. They had the guts and the courage to resist the demand of the Minister and flatly refuse to resign and left the Minister in frustration.
In a hotly contested election Dr. Jayewardene was elected the 1st ever President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka with a majority of 112 votes. The doyen defeated another leading light, Mr.T Sri Ramanathan. At the 1st Bar Council meeting he was proposed to the chair by another doyen of the bar, Mr. Thayagalingam Queens Counsel. Mr. Thayagalingam was never known to be a man with political inclinations. If at all he was the Lawyer for Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister. Mr. Jayewardene rose above such petty matters. At his behest some of his confidantes invited Mr. Thiyagalingam to step in as the 2nd President of the BASL. He declined with his choice of tough words.
After 1977 Dr. Jayewardene was instrumental in getting the building that was acquired, vested to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka that was established in 1974. During later years the government took the building back and gave us the building we are now occupying.
Dr. Jayewardene had a Chamber that was full with many illustrious men. Hon. Parinda Ranasinghe, Hon. Laxman Kadiragamar, Hon. Mark Fernando, Mr. Chandra Seneviratna, Hon. Ranil Wicremasinghe to name a few. Two of his Juniors have adorned the Presidency of the BASL. Mr. NRM Daluwatte is the 1st Junior to do so and I have the privilege of being the second. Of course I was also the junior to Mr. Eardley Perera the 2nd President of the BASL.
Appointment of the judges
With the promulgation of the 1978 Constitution several new Judges were appointed directly from the unofficial Bar. They were men of stature and eminence. They stood up for the judicial independence and the integrity of the profession. Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, Justice Mark Fernando, Justice ARB Amarasinghe, Justice Dheeraratna, were a few of them. Dr. Jayewardene may well have advised President Jayewardene in making these appointments. They were not cronies. They had the courage to stand up to their convictions to conscientiously hold against the very Executive that appointed them and develop the Law on Fundamental rights at its formative stage. These are the Judgments that face up-to the embarrassment of some of the new appointees to the Judiciary. He was even responsible in recommending some worthy names for silk – not silk worms.
Dr.Jayewardene respected values. His family members were shut out from politics. He was a class of his own.
I will quote one incident concerning Chief Justice Parinda Ranasinghe who devilled under Mr.Jayewardene. When RP Wijesiri the Member of Parliament for Kundasale was indicted in the High Court for having committed Criminal Defamation on the President of the Country, the all powerful JR Jayewardene the beloved brother of Dr. H.W. Jayewardene, Mr. DS Wijesinghe appeared for the accused and took up a preliminary objection that the indictment should be quashed on the basis that the person who is alleged to have been defamed has not made a complaint to the Police and that the matter has not been referred to the conciliation board. The objection was over ruled and RP Wijesiri was convicted in the High Court by High Court Judge Munamale. Matter came up finally in appeal before Justice Parinda Ranasinghe and two other judges in the Court of Appeal. This matter was gone in to with Mr. DS Wijesighe appearing for the Appellant Wijesiri. The Attorney General appeared for the state. The aggrieved party, President Jayewardene did not retain a private counsel. Justice Parinda Ranasinghe and two other Judges went into the matter in depth and detail and upheld the objection of the Counsel DS wijesinghe appearing for Wijesiri and acquitted the accused. This acquittal did not stand as a bar or a reason for the then executive to impeach Justice Parinda Ranasinghe.
It was taken in good spirit as it should be, and Justice Ranasinghe was given his due promotion to the Supreme Court and later he was appointed as The Chief Justice. The beauty of it all was that the Attorney General or even President Jayewardene, the aggrieved party did not think it fit to appeal against the order. Dr. H.W Jayewardene as probably his brother’s private legal advisor was unmoved. That’s the caliber of the man he was. That’s the quality of the training he gave his Juniors.
This is in contrast to some of our experience where the Judges who sat in Judgement in a matter that was filed by the 43rd Chief Justice and issued writ quashing the Parliamentary Select Committee proceedings are being frowned upon with the wrath of the Executive depriving two judges of that bench of their due promotions. Late Justice Sri Skandaraja died with a broken heart. A well experienced and a honest and upright Judge Justice Anil Gunaratna is being repeatedly overlooked for promotion. I have to ask this question from the Executive. Do honest judges have no place in the judiciary? I hope even at this late stage that this grave error would be rectified maintaining the dignity of the Judiciary. I hope the Hon. Leader of the opposition would take due notice of these matters.
It is essential for each generation to share with successive generations, the experiences and the struggles of the past for preserving a constitutional democracy and the rule of law. It is an ever greening process and Dr. Jayewardene’s role must encourage each one of us – Judge, Lawyer and Citizen – to play our little part in this never ending battle.
In another instance during a BASL election Dr. Jayewardene promoted the name of Mr. H.L De Silva for the Presidency. Mr.H.L. De Silva was no admirer of the ruling party and not even an admirer of the BASL membership. Certainly not of Dr.Jayewardene’s beloved brother, President Jayewardene. Dr. Jayewardene persuaded a prospective candidate to step down as he thought that the shy and unassuming H.L De Silva would not be able to defeat his all popular opponent. Mr. H.L De Silva was elected President BASL with a resounding majority.
Dr. Jayewardene stood tall way above petty issues as he treasured the dignity and the independence of the Bar and the judiciary.
The nearby Supreme Court stands as a monument to the unique contribution he made to the bench and the bar, adding colour and luster to Hulftsdorp. He obtained the assistance of Dr. ARB Amarasinghe and the two of them planned every thing meticulously, including the minute details, even the beautiful paintings that stand on the walls of that magnificent edifice.
He was a rationalist with a razor-sharp intellect and yet he was full of compassion and sympathy for his kind. A lawyer par excellence. But his lawyering was only a means to an end. Law was never his main pursuit. His success as a lawyer acted as a springboard for enabling and empowering him to espouse causes dear to his heart, particularly the legal profession.
He was a beacon and a symbol of selfless courage and possessed a lion heart, fearless and resolved to stand up for what he considered to be right with no regard to personal consequences. Though he is no more with us, he still lives in the hearts of the members of the legal profession and those in the judiciary and will be looked up to with admiration.
Dr. H.W. Jayewardene, what a man you were ! The references above encapsulates my small tribute to a great lawyer, a leader and visionary of the bar and an incomparable builder like his forefathers who contributed immeasurably to legal learning, ethics and values. But above all who displayed indomitable courage to fight for his beliefs and convictions ignoring all consequences to his personal fortunes. We would remember him as a great warrior prince of the bar, a knight in shining armor of the law.
*Speech delivered by president BASL at Dr. HW Jayewardene QC Auditorium Opening