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Law Is King Or King Is Law?

By Sinha Ratnatunga – This is the Sunday Times Editorial – December 15, 2013 –

Sinha Ratnatunga - Editor Sunday Times

Sinha Ratnatunga – Editor Sunday Times

The legal fraternity, or at least most Colombo-based lawyers and judges, enjoyed a convivial evening on Friday at the annual Voet Lights Society dinner as the year draws to a close. Those present could reflect on the good humoured barbs, especially at the expense of the judiciary. They might be left with the thought if a joke can also be a serious thing.

It was also the end of a year that began in turmoil with the unceremonious impeachment of a sitting Chief Justice and the unease that prevailed in the corridors of justice has not entirely abated. The Chief Justice who was present, ducked speaking at the dinner. Discretion was the better part of valour.

There was surely a sense of regret and disillusionment that the public’s esteem for the Law, the Courts, and for Justice had been so eroded and not wholly due to the conduct of the legal profession. That the administration of justice was slipping into an abyss, and is no longer on the elevated pedestal in which the ‘Nadukara Hamuduruwo’ was once held, is clear today. Every effort has been made to turn the judiciary into a “Government Court” — a mere rubber stamp of the Executive.

Recent appointments by the President have made it crystal clear in the minds of judges, lawyers, litigants and the public that absolute loyalty to the ruling party precedes seniority, experience and competence. Bypassing of senior Court of Appeal judges by ‘high-jumpers’ and ‘long-jumpers’ has left a gaping hole on two counts — (a) the demoralising of independent judges to the point of making them ill, and (b) the creation of a huge void in integrity insofar as the law is concerned.

In a court such as the Supreme Court where “the judgments…. shall, in all cases be final and conclusive” and which has jurisdiction to correct “all errors in fact or law committed by any subordinate court”, there was always, hitherto, the underlying truth that the Judiciary was the last bastion of the citizen and that justice would be rendered at the end of the day; that the principle ‘all are equal before the law and accorded equal protection of the law’ shall prevail. Today, such a lofty expectation is a joke, sad to say. From bribery and corruption to murder and intimidation, and from the misuse of state power to the exploitation of state property, everything is done to pervert the course of justice and protect members of the ruling party while the rest could be thrown to ravenous wolves. And yet, more than 90 per cent of cases that come before these appellate courts are of a non-political nature, just disputes between parties. What is the quality of justice that is meted out, one may well ask.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution and the Constitutional Court that it provided for, gave a hint of credibility that the seemingly irreversible trend of political interference in the appointment of senior judges could be remedied. The 18th Amendment threw all those good intentions of the Legislature to the winds.

Political interference did not happen overnight; it was a trend that crept in progressively over the years. In 1964, the then Chief Justice Hema Basnayake in his farewell speech complained that conventions that governed the relations between the Supreme Court and the Executive scrupulously observed had seen a departure. His successor M.C. Sansoni was equally unhappy about the “changing scene” (The Supreme Court; the first 185 years by A.R.B. Amarasinghe J.). Victor Tennekoon CJ’s running battles with the then Minister of Justice Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike over the seating arrangements at ceremonial sittings are legendary as was Neville Samarakoon CJ’s ‘clash of the Titans’ with President J.R. Jayewardene and R.S. Wanasundera J’s refusal to sign an undated letter of resignation which cost him the Chief Justiceship under the same President.

Those were giants of the time for whom the independence of the judiciary and personal integrity meant the world, and for whom the office itself would be a ‘mess of pottage’ were they to compromise it. They dared challenge the inroads made by the Executive on the independence of the Judiciary, which is not an esoteric entity of pompous men in wigs and distinctive gowns, but a living institution that is the embodiment of the legal rights of the ordinary citizen. Last week, when the votes of the Ministry of Justice were taken up in Parliament, the Minister announced that a Code of Conduct for judges was soon to be gazetted. Interesting that politicians are recommending codes for everyone other than themselves. The Minister’s assertion however, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, for he promised to introduce a Contempt of Court Act, a Child Protection Law and the appointment of pre-trial judges among “revolutionary” changes this year when he spoke on the same votes last year in Parliament.

No one would oppose a Code of Conduct for a judge provided it is drafted by senior judges themselves like the Supreme Court Rules that give guidelines on how senior judges must set about conducting the business of courts. The Minister says this Code will be based on the Bangalore Principles (of Judicial Conduct) and the Commonwealth Latimer House Principles that set out the relationship between Parliament, the Judiciary and the Executive. What earthly use though is a Code for a judge when the wider aspects of the Bangalore Principles or the Latimer House Principles are disregarded by the all-powerful Executive.

The Bangalore Principles call for six core values from a judge — independence, impartiality, integrity, propriety, equality and competence. When the Executive does not recognise any of these principles, and rewards only those it thinks will give their imprimatur to Government dictates or when the Latimer House Principles call for harmonious balancing of power between the three arms of the State and one looks at the way the Executive – and the Legislature have conducted themselves recently, it makes a mockery of a Code for judges.

The Latimer House Principles call for a restraining of the powers of each of the three institutions to enable the others to discharge their constitutional duties without encroaching on the powers of the other. The manner in which the Government reacted just this week to an Opposition MP’s private members’ motion seeking to protect the tenure of a judge is a clear give-away of its intentions to control the entry and exit of judges.

The administration of justice, from bribery at the level of the minor staff at the record room to the recent examination scam at Law College to the loss of dockets (case records) and the delay in delivering judgments is in itself a reflection of the sorry state of affairs that prevails. Through the ‘snakes and ladders’ appointments to high judicial office, the Government has made it clear, both to the judicial officers and the public servants that it rewards blind loyalty and tolerates no independence.

The moral of the story is that it is no longer the Rule of Law but the Rule of the Executive. The days of the monarchy may be long over, and the times when the King is Law have passed into labyrinth of history. Today, the Law is King not the other way around all over the democratic world of free citizens, but is it so in Sri Lanka?

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Latest comments

  • 4
    0

    You are right the King is the law in Lanka. And the king is monkeying with the judiciary.

    • 1
      6

      Sinha eh?Who gave you that bloody name?Most probably your parents.They never imagined that the Sinhaya will be a bloody dirty monkey.Of course you can become Sinhaya if your boss Ruwan becomes the president.You carry the can for Ruwan.Malinda carries the can for Mahinda.Double doctor Laksiri carries the can for the defeated Tamil terrorists.So does Madam Thisaranee,Madam Dharshika,Madam Pinto etc etc.Bloody journalists!No shame![Edited out]Ever heard of Premakeerithi or DBS Jeyaraj?No never.[Edited out]

      • 1
        0

        “Law is King” and “The Rule of Law” is not relevant in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Thanks to the Old Fox JRJ (stoning of CJ’s bungalow) and Maha Raja MR (impeachment of CJ). Current Status “King is Law” is relevant and will remain so until…………………….Dooms Day ???????????

      • 1
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        …. and you MAD Max carry on being “RAW” (Rajapassa Ass Wipe)! Keep your tongue in good shape.

      • 1
        0

        What are you trying to say Maximus? Is this your minimum?

      • 0
        0

        MAD MAD MAD Max, an a.h. like you should not be tolerated in these worthy columns. Please see Palraj of the “Daily Noise” with your idiotic comments!

      • 0
        0

        No point talking to racists– good Buddhist you are not.

  • 1
    0

    Can you expect a MONKEY POX to know the LAW OF SRILANKA ?

  • 2
    0

    Law Is King Or King Is Law? Neither, law is his Excellency Mahinda Rajah, the king and emperor of Singhlestan and Tamil Eelam!

  • 2
    0

    Break down of the law and order is manifested everywhere. For instance, the Central Bank suppressed the Golden Key report prepared in 2005 and revealed the bank account details of the former Chief Justice to the political authorities. Many Golden key depositors could have been rescued had action was taken in 2006/2007 as per the 2005 report. No ones bank account can be revealed by a commercial bank even if the Central Bank pressurize to do so. Need one say more !

    • 2
      0

      Varuna,

      The GKCCC saga is one example of the Rajapakses gaining from the misery and helplessness of over 10,000 middle and upper middle class
      Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others who were merely trying to protect the value of their assets from galloping inflation. Yes – in the process they left room to the charge they were trying to evade
      Income Tax. But they would have gone into the State banks if the Govt had the good sense to draw them into the fold with sensible ideas
      of savings.

      It is common knowledge the regime sent the attack canine Kudu Mervin to strike a multi-Billion deal with Kotelawala. He did not have the cash to fork out and GKCCC was allowed to collapse with Rs.26 billion of depositors funds. At the time it collapsed, Kavan Perera has told friends – the value of assets were in excess of Rs.35 billion. Regime favourites, including Buddhist priests, took their money out in time along with Cricketers and others. One well known Mudalali in the Health industry used thuggery and took out Rs.200 million GKCC assets for his Rs.90 million deposits. Nearly 10,000 medium depositors with
      sums ranging from Rs.10-25million were sacrificed. Some committed suicide. Many got heart attacks and other serious ailments resulting from shock.The 10,000 are now in the streets and take to the streets now and then in the hope the humane cells in the ruling clique will show some manifestation.

      Basil R promised to bring relief to depositors 2 years ago and forgot about it thereafter. Cabraal appears to be trying to do something – but the process is slow. The Supreme Court took up the case and when the hopes of the depositors were allowed to rise. What they thereafter was a high legal officer – instead of bringing relief to those caught – was found cornering 2 high-end properties at concessional prices using suspect black money.

      Those with Rs.2 million and below have – since 2011 received 3 instalments of Rs.100,000 each – which is a pittance. Many middle class families were brought to the streets. Some children who went in the family car to international schools are now without proper transport and schooling. At least 3 once rich live in bus stands. And we are a country playing lip service to Kindness and Compassion.

      R. J. de Silva

  • 1
    0

    Always LAW IS KING,
    but With our F King Law is Unto Him self and MAD with power and looted money.
    This is the result of, When you have given [mistakenly understood] the rains to a Jackass to run, not to govern a Country.

    • 1
      0

      Yes, that is UNFORTUNATELY our (nation) karma.

      They the gullible masses thought – winning the war for any cost can give the country proper. But their 5 years after the war, they have proved it – they can only be far brutal than had been during the war end.

      Now those stupid folks from all corners of the country, should be very clear… they were the ones who brought the nation to this dismal end.

      Making SCUM OF NATION as law of the country – like the wrong soldier took the most sophisticated weapon.

  • 1
    0

    It is, at least, comforting in these days when fascism has destroyed almost all vestiges of what was once our respected system of good governance at least a gasping voice of dissent and freedom is seen. The Sunday Times has maintained high standards of decent journalism and continues to be a point of reference and reliable information – managed, as it is, by the progeny of one of the most
    respected names in local journalism since Independence. ST appears to prefer responsible journalism as an instrument to keep the public informed to that of sensationalism that we have seen in other media – that often cripples the truth. We have even seen blackmail journalism in recent times.

    “Those were giants of the time for whom the independence of the judiciary and personal integrity meant the world” is a statement that brings tears to the eye. When justice and its conduct via Courts are compromised that is a clear indication that a society is going downhill – a position we went through years ago. A time will come soon when people will wonder if there ever was such a thing as a honest judge and a reliable legal system in this country.

    “The Chief Justice who was present, ducked speaking at the dinner”
    Even a hoot, a boo would have carried its message through and so he
    chose discretion over valour. Those were the days when CJ’s made stirring and inspiring addresses praising the legal system respected by the people.

    We are told today our King is a senior lawyer. And the Justice Minister, a lawyer, who himself lamented recently “where is Justice in this?” now talks of a Bill to guarantee the good Conduct of Judges – an oxymoron. Our legal system today is nothing short of a Zombie Jamboree.

    Kettikaran

  • 0
    0

    The small finger of he king is mightier than the loins of law.

  • 0
    0

    “Nadu yanno venasenno”

    The best description of our justice system. And this is not new, for a long time this has been the case.
    Lawyers and judges played ‘sangang’ to fleece the litigant and no one saw the damage and disrepute it brought to the justice system.

    All those who watched the dyke being broken are now screaming for the flooding.

  • 1
    0

    Hats off to the only remaining (almost) independent newspaper in Sri Lanka.

  • 0
    0

    Oh my god! Still the editor?

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