By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
Protecting from Public Insult
We, in Australia and the West, have learnt to have the highest respect for the judiciary. Judges in court perform duties of the highest order. Upon the judiciary our liberties and our rights as citizens rest. The judiciary is the pinnacle of justice for everyone.
At the level of individual citizens, this utmost responsibility is safeguarded by the law relating to contempt of court. Nobody can make utterance or act in a way that can be taken to imply contempt of court.
Member of parliament Ranjan Ramanayake has just paid the penalty over charges of contempt of court. He will be behind bars for four long years. Ranjan’s penchant for exposing public corruption has been much admired by the public despite the controversial ways he had got “information.” He had shown a ruthless fearlessness in this regard. However, he exhibited foolhardiness in going a mile further to charge our judges as being corrupt. With no evidence in his command, Ranjan’s accusation turned into mudslinging and the MP was confirmed as having been guilty of contempt charges.
The Role of Government
The judiciary must be protected not only from public insult; the most important and fundamental source of protection must come from the government. This is done by a myriad of ways:govt members not interfering with judges directly and indirectly, govt not flouting orders of court; and government carrying out certain healthy practices.
Govt must, above all, ensure that the best selections for vacancies in the judiciary are made impartially and with no semblance of political consideration. This action on the part of the the govt of the day enables the public to have respect and collective esteem for our judges. It is the public perception that Sri Lankan governments have been negligent of this wider responsibilty of ensuring a judiciary of high quality. Perception is important and this is why the old adage: “Justice must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done,” is valid for all time and everywhere.
Furthermore, we have had instances of bad practice on the part of the government. A Chief Justice had been unceremoniously and illegally evicted by parliament at the behest of government. Promotions and transfers have also been questioned. The yahapalanaya government, to its credit, introduced independent constitutional commissions to make appointments to high office of the judiciary and we had four years of minimal political interference. With such arrangements, public respect for our judges soared;while at the same time judges grew in selfconfidence to perform their sacrosanct duties.
Wider Justice System
There is another aspect: the whole justice system includes more than the judges. It covers the actions of the Attorney General,too. The AG must be seen to be above board in directing the cases to be brought before the judges. The public perception has suffered here,too. As a matter of fact, the police are also part of the wider set known as the judicial system. Political interference in the ranks of the police force is dismally high.
The constitutional position of the Attorney General needs review. In Australia, the AG is a minister of cabinet rank. This gives him a clout. In Sri Lanka the AG is really the chief Public Prosecutor and he heads a government department under a minister.
Thus, the protection of our judiciary has to be twofold,namely, from the individual citizen and,perhaps more fundamentally, from the President,government and the political system. The two are intertwined in effect.