22 September, 2020

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Ensure Legal Aid Services To North And East: Friday Forum Tells Justice Minister

“It is vital that legal aid services to the North and the East, which were disrupted during the war, are now sustained with permanent staff. Furthermore, where possible, legal aid services should be expanded to support efforts of reconciliation and reconstruction.” says the Friday Forum.

Manouri Muttetuwegama

Manouri Muttetuwegama

Issuing a statement the Friday Forum said;”recent news reports that the Legal Aid Centres in the North may be curtailed due to the winding up of donor funding in August 2015 is worrying. What lapses, if any, on the part of the Legal Aid Commission and the Ministry of Justice led to this situation? The Friday Forum calls on the Legal Aid Commissioners, the Minister of Justice and the Government to rectify this funding problem and ensure the maintenance of these Legal Aid Centres with State funds.”

We publish below the statement in full;

The Legal Aid Commission—Its National Importance and Role in Reconciliation

The Friday Forum has consistently emphasised the importance of State institutions in ensuring citizens’ democratic rights and equality before the law. The Legal Aid Commission is one such institution – while not prominent in the public sphere – that performs the critical function of providing free legal services to the economically marginalised sections of our society. The Friday Forum reiterates the national importance of the Legal Aid Commission to ensure the rights of all citizens as well as its relevance for reconciliation in the post-war era and the reconstruction of legal infrastructure and judicial functions in particular in war-torn areas.

The right to a lawyer and to be heard through a lawyer, in criminal cases, is both a Constitutional right and a right provided under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007. The need for legal aid was recognised by the parliament when it passed the Legal Aid Act No. 27 of 1978, where it states: “The objects of the Commission shall be to operate throughout Sri Lanka an efficient Legal Aid Scheme to provide to deserving persons—legal advice; funds for the conduct of legal and other proceedings for and on behalf of such persons; the services of attorneys-at-law to represent them; such other assistance as may be necessary for the conduct of such proceedings.” In addition to such free litigation services, the Legal Aid Act provides the Commission with a broad mandate to provide other “legal assistance” to be made “easily accessible to deserving persons” and to develop legal aid educational programmes and special programmes.

Performing such functions of national importance requires adequate State funds to the Legal Aid Commission. The excuse of budget constraints is unacceptable; for example, in 2014 the allocation for the Legal Aid Commission was Rs. 146 million, a mere one thousandth of allocation towards the Ministry of Ports and Highways amounting to Rs. 145 billion. The bottom line is State priorities towards citizens’ rights and their equality before the law, which is critical to ensure the democratic fabric of our society. Therefore, the State’s commitment to legal aid must improve as a matter of urgency; for a range of civil and criminal cases for the disadvantaged in our society. Too many aggrieved persons are unable to seek justice because of the high costs of litigation. That in turn gives rise to many social issues, including violence as people take the law into their own hands. Legal aid services to the people must improve all over the island as a matter of priority if the rule of law is to be protected. In particular, the need for improvement is acutely felt in war-torn areas.

In this context, recent news reports that the Legal Aid Centres in the North may be curtailed due to the winding up of donor funding in August 2015 is worrying. What lapses, if any, on the part of the Legal Aid Commission and the Ministry of Justice led to this situation? The Friday Forum calls on the Legal Aid Commissioners, the Minister of Justice and the Government to rectify this funding problem and ensure the maintenance of these Legal Aid Centres with State funds. It is vital that legal aid services to the North and the East, which were disrupted during the war, are now sustained with permanent staff. Furthermore, where possible, legal aid services should be expanded to support efforts of reconciliation and reconstruction.

The Friday Forum respects the indispensable role of many of our State institutions and values the work of individuals who carry out the related duties. The meaningful functioning of the Legal Aid Commission requires the commitment of the lawyers in their daily duties as much as the vision and leadership of the Legal Aid Commissioners and the Minister and officials of the Ministry of Justice. The Friday Forum in the spirit of keeping State institutions accountable to its citizens will continue to engage with the priorities and functioning of the Legal Aid Commission and other State institutions.

Professor Savitri Goonesekere – Manouri Muttetuwegama – Ahilan Kadirgamar

For and on Behalf of

Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Mr. Faiz-urRahman, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe Ms, Damaris Wickremesekera, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Ananda Galappatti Mr. S. C. C . Elankovan, Professor Camena Guneratne, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Mr. D. Wijayanandana, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Every person arrested, not only in the northeast, should be assigned a lawyer by the state, if that person is indigent and/or unable to obtain the services of a lawyer – a panel of lawyers for each district should be appointed.
    Every person arrested must be seen by a magistrate within 24/48 hours and be interrogated by him/her in private, before deciding on bail.
    He/she should also be allowed to contact anyone as soon as possible, after arrest, and relatives informed and/or allowed to visit them.

    All this happens in western democracies, & is enforced by law.
    This will prevent torture/intimidation as happens now, and confirmed by many UN Rapporteurs.

    Medical officers who issue false medical certificates to those arrested, should be reported to/investigated by the Medical Council.

    Deaths in custody must be investigated by a coroner soon, and medico legal examination carried out, in the absence of police.

    • 1
      1

      @justice

      Well, not all of these happen in every case in western democracies. I am sure you know

      Homeland Security in the US and the myriad other Prevention of Terrorism Acts in many other western “democracies” (and indeed in non-western countries) allow for all of what you mentioned to be circumvented with impunity

      • 0
        0

        maalumiris,
        All what I wrote, does happen – else citizens complain to ombudsmen who take up the matter in courts.
        These instances are very rare.
        Independent groups probe all actions of police and report to the state.
        In Sri Lanka, citizens are harassed by police not in uniform.

        http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=37859

        They cannot complain to anyone.

      • 0
        0

        Please look at how the army is serving its servicemen – it’s doing everything possible even after they leave the service:

        http://www.army.lk/

  • 2
    1

    This is where legal firms arrive and Pro-Bono work happens.

  • 1
    0

    Friday Forum, Oh, they had some drinks on friday and are talking crap.

    where were they when Sinhala youth were killed.

    Now, they want the govt to give all the freebies to tamils.

    How about 30 years of destruction where were these people ?

  • 1
    0

    It is important that learned groups such as these , play a more pro active role in issues relating to all segments of society . The poor and the down trodden , irrespective of caste , creed, or religion are all seriously discriminated against .

  • 0
    0

    Friday forum only have credentials just have no idea how to do things but just shhoot off their hips and people have to accept ???
    No way Manouri… Your validity has long expired.

    Not in the North & East…………….

    Every court in Sri Lanka should have a Duty Lawyer Service office run by the Bar Assosiation and list of Lawyers who are members of the said organisation.
    Here the citizens who can not afford a minimum lawyer’s fee should be provided with a lawyer after a brief means test.
    Overall funding for work undertaken must be provided by the Ministry of Justice and/or any NGO who is willing to come forward with funds.
    In this way, all who are charged can retain a lawyer to represent their cases in Court.

    Those who can meet minimum payment too can avail themselves of the facility.
    This is said in a nut shell.
    That voice ferocious Yahapalana Upul jayasuriya should have established something like this or on similar lines instead of lining his pockets. He is an absolute political stooge of the highest order.

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