By Faizer Shaheid –
We are constantly reminded of an era in the past when the ruling elite were above all laws despite constant nagging from the general public. It has always been a part of the nonpareil politics of the country. Not even the guise of good governance has helped hide the hypocrisy in the Government of today. We have already seen how easily the people forgot the alleged abduction carried out by Hirunika Premachandra in a black Defender, and now Patali Champika Ranawaka makes another felonious attempt at escaping the grips of the law.
The funny part about this Yahapalanaya Government is its niche that the rule of law prevails above all else. When the Government proposed to carry out investigations into all of the wrongdoing committed during the last regime, they conveniently chose to omit any and all wrongdoing that the present Government may indulge in.
In recent times, the allegations have transcended from mere Constitutional violations to rabid criminal law violations. Now the crime rate is rampant thanks to the examples set by the ruling elite. Leave out the corruption allegations, and you would notice how Hirunika Premachandra was arrested on a Saturday, weeks after being accused of abduction, only to be granted bail just as fast as she had been arrested. Now we have Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, Patali Champika Ranawaka engaging in an alleged hit and run case, but still evading arrest.
It all began when Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka was accused of walloping into a motorcycle rendering the motorcyclist named Sadim Sampath and the pillion rider M. Abeysundera seriously injured. Two young men named Gayashan Vinura and Mohamed Sufi, who were friends of the injured parties had given chase to the black SUV that sped past without a care for the injured bikers. The two young men had subsequently forced the fleeing vehicle to a halt, and figured that Ranawaka was in the driving seat.
Ranawaka had allegedly conceded to the two young men that he was at fault and asked to go to the Borella Police Station, but the two men had been reluctant to leave their friends behind in a state of injury. A complaint had subsequently been lodged at the Borella Police Station but it was also alleged that a fresh driver had taken the place of Ranawaka when they finally arrived at the Police Station, and the statement to the Police was similarly recorded.
The driver as claimed by Ranawaka, Thusitha Kumara, had been subsequently arrested and released on a personal bail of Rs. 500,000/-.
The latest news articles indicate that the story has been flipped over. The latest news article I read on Daily Mirror quotes Gayantha Karunathilaka stating that the bike had hit from behind and that it was a 1000 CC bike. The latest version is reminiscent of the previous regime where a Deputy Minister by the name of Hemal Gunasekera slapped Police Constable Suminda Saman on the Southern Expressway and then attempted to turn the tables around by digging out allegations of corruption against the Police Constable.
Follow-up of the trial
Subsequent to the trial, the Police promised to carry out investigations into the incident. However, with an allegation made in the complaint that the Ranawaka was indeed the man behind the steering wheel, the Minister should have been produced before a magistrate.
He has firmly claimed since that he was never in the driving seat of the vehicle. Even assuming that he was not in the driving seat, the Minister should not have consented to allowing the driver to speed off after committing an offence. If his claim were veracious, then it is possible he would have aided and abetted the offence of the driver by consenting for him to flee the crime scene. He had least offered his assistance to transport the injured persons to hospital, which is least becoming of a representative of the people. The only reason Ranawaka had presented himself at the Police Station was because the two young bikers had stopped him.
In any case, the process has been very slow since and not much progress has been made thus far. The more important point to note is that Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka was not arrested, where his name was mentioned as the prime accused in the hit and run case.
It is common knowledge that in accordance with the Motor Traffic Act of Sri Lanka, the driver should immediately stop the vehicle if he had met with an accident on the roads. If the other party to the accident is injured or unconscious, the driver is expected to immediately provide assistance and transport them to the hospital. Thereafter, he is expected to submit himself before a Police Station and provide all the particulars of the accident. In this case, regardless of whether or not Minister Ranawaka had been driving, the vehicle merely sped off the crime scene.
If Ranawaka was being driven by another as he claims, he had knowingly consented to the hit and run gesture of the driver. In a recent case where a 15 year old boy had driven and fled after knocking down a mother and a daughter to death, the mother was arrested even though she had not been driving at the time. In a Ministry, the Minister is in charge of the vehicle and he can be held vicariously liable for the offence committed by the driver of the vehicle similarly. This is especially considering that it was a hit and run case, and not merely a driving offence, where the Minister was present in the vehicle.
Nevertheless, the charge placed by Gayashan Vinura and Mohamed Sufi, was that the Minister was spotted driving the vehicle at the time. This would normally not be the case considering that Ranawaka is the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development, but then again a Minister would ordinarily be accompanied by his security guards too. The Ministerial Security allocated to the Minister would accompany the Minister irrespective of whether or not he had a driver. It therefore appears strange that the Minister was accompanied by his driver and not his security personnel.
Laws on arrest
Despite Ranawaka’s attempts at debunking the allegations, there are formalities that need to be followed. Vinura and Sufi had asserted in their statement to the Police that they saw no other person but Ranawaka in the vehicle. The Minister ought to have taken defamatory action had they misstated the truth, but it was not the case. This too appears strange.
While in general, offences committed with a warrant, in an incident of this nature any ordinary person would be arrested without warrant by the Police. This is especially when the charge directly attributes the accident to Minister Ranawaka. There are conditions placed in the law as to how a person is arrested without a warrant in the Criminal Procedure Code.
Section 32 of the Criminal Procedure Code speaks of arrests made by a Peace or Police Officer without a warrant issued by the Magistrate. In the same section, it is stated clearly that a Peace Officer may make an arrest without a warrant of any person:
‘Who has been concerned in any cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable complaint has been made or credible information has been received or a reasonable suspicion exists of his having been so concerned’.
The law is clear that the Police can arrest Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka based on the complaint they had received, as the duo had mentioned in their statement that he had been driving the vehicle.
Now the argument may also be raised that Vinura and Sufi had not seen Ranawaka driving when the accident had happened, and that this is a non-cognizable offence. Regardless of circumstances, the Police would only be performing their duties if they had arrested based on the complaint received.
Arrest by private persons
Section 35 of the Act also permits private persons to make arrests if the offence was a cognizable one. Considering the circumstances, Vinura and Sufi could have arrested the Minister as he got off the vehicle and agreed to visit the Borella Police Station. The duo expected the Minister to keep his word and confess to the Police that he had committed the offence, and therefore attended to the injuries of their friend.
Although the Minister did visit the Police Station, he did a U-turn when all of a sudden a ministerial driver was introduced as the man who had driven the vehicle. The driver confessed, and the Police paid little heed to the complaint made by the duo. Hence, the driver was produced before a magistrate and released while the Minister walked away scot-free. Of course, investigations were commenced, yet the Minister ought to have been arrested and produced before the Magistrate consequent to the complaint made after which he could have pleaded and obtained bail.
It is clear based on Section 32 of the Criminal Procedure Code that Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka should have been arrested and produced before a Magistrate. It baffles me as to why this was not done considering the seriousness of the injuries sustained by the injured parties. Perhaps it is because a conviction on the said grounds, as according to Article 89 of the Constitution, could result in the disqualification of Minister Ranawaka from being a Parliamentarian. Or perhaps, impunity continues to prevail in the present regime even as this ‘Good Governance’ Government continues its fight against impunity in the last regime.