The Hulftsdorp court complex witnessed a revolution of some sort following the appointment of Colombo District Judge Frank Gunawardena, with Petitions being filed against him by lawyers the Colombo Telegraph learns.
Judge Gunawardena has taken the country’s main court complex by storm by being vehemently opposed to lawyers moving for ‘dates’. Instead following his appointment as Colombo District Judge, he has continuously insisted that Lawyers argue and end cases without moving for ‘dates’ on unsubstantiated grounds.
Gunawardena is the most senior District Judge in the country, and was appointed to the Colombo District court following the promotion of former Judge Sujatha Alahapperuma.
Gunawardena has created waves due to his uncompromising style, and novelty in hearing cases, which had been lacking within the Lankan judiciary according to many litigants and senior Lawyers.
However, despite this, the Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that certain lawyers have verbally and in writing complained to the Chief Justice regarding the judge.
Gunawardena has gained a reputation for insisting on speedy conclusion of trials before him and has consistently against written submissions often insisting Lawyers to argue matters in open court.
“He insists on verbally arguing cases which is actually a lawyers job. That was how lawyers argued cases in the Golden Era of the Lankan judiciary until it slowly diluted into written submissions which made lawyers basic journalists” a senior Presidents Counsel told Colombo Telegraph on the condition of anonymity.
The late S.L Gunasekara in his book ‘Lore of the Law and other memories’ specifically called for a reform to the system of Written Submissions and instead insisted on oral argument of cases.
“He told my lawyer that he wants the case heard today. In open court he berated a lawyer who had taken two years to settle issues and said he was disgusted by this practice. After having come to court all these years, it sounded like a breath of fresh air. Earlier either my lawyer or the opposing side would give some reason or the other and move for a date and the judges don’t bat an eyelid when giving a date- leaving us with no hope and high expenses” a litigant told Colombo Telegraph.
The laws delays have been a focal point, with some litigation taking over a decade to conclude in all courts across the island.
Mohan Pieris who was sitting as Chief Justice previously issued strict instructions for the speedy conclusion of cases, however, the continuous dominance of lawyers and adherence to archaic procedure has resulted in the instructions not conformed to.
Gunawardena a career judicial officer has served in many outstation areas prior to his current posting and is known for his uncompromising integrity and the fact that he cannot be intimidated.
According to unverified reports, the Colombo Telegraph learns that Gunawardena was not given his due transfer or promotion due to berating Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the witness stand during the ‘Sunday Leader‘ trial in which the then powerful Rajapaksa was a witness.
Gunawardena had reportedly ordered Rajapaksa to desist from giving irrelavant information and to ensure that he sticks within the bounds of questioning as “he was only a witness in this courtroom”
The Colombo Telegraph learns that many lawyers are opposed to Gunawardena due to his insistence on hearing and concluding cases.
“Lawyers live on dates just like the arabs. They will bring up some archaic and/or nonsensical procedure and are used to being granted dates at the drop of a hat. Moment you have a Judge who wants to hear the case they all get intimidated. Some lawyers come to court only to move for a date not knowing head or tale of the case, but I am told that this man (Gunawardena )doesn’t give in to that kind of rubbish” another senior legal practitioner told Colombo Telegraph upon inquiry.
“A few decades ago a courtroom was a spectacle. Lawyers and the Judges always stood to ensure swift justice. That is why we saw members of the public throng to court houses for trials. It was a clash of intellect, wit and wisdom. Sadly today court houses are a bore and people have lost faith in the system because of two things. The non-independence of judges, and the laws delays. If we have an independent judiciary supplemented with judges and lawyers who want swift and proper justice the court rooms will win back the confidence and trust of the people” he said.
The Colombo Telegraph attempted to persuade the publishing of names of the two Senior Counsel, but they politely insisted on anonymity due to “professional reasons”.