Colombo Telegraph

Legal Fraternity Conspires Against The Election Commission

By K. Sivapakiam –

Conspiracy

A conspiracy is formally defined as a group of people planning and doing something illegal. After years under the LTTE when some 600,000 voters were denied their franchise for a payment as is now being proved in court, sections of Jaffna beating the LTTE drums, seem not to have grown out of their habit of not taking elections laws seriously. At the centre of the unfolding storm is the TNPF led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and his Tamil Congress (TC). The TC and Jaffna’s law enforcement are, I believe, into a conspiracy to violate the Jaffna voters’ franchise, a fundamental right associated with Article 3 of the Constitution, by obstructing the work of the Election Commission (EC) so they can cheat and win even when voters vote otherwise.

Rather strangely, the TC seems to be very lucky with Jaffna’s law enforcement, including judges and the police. Three cases raise eyebrows and prove the point.

Maviddapuram

The first concerns the TNPF launching its manifesto for the local government elections of 10 February 2018 from the Maviddapuram Temple. Several newspapers and Facebook pages of TC candidates boasted of the event at the famous temple and displayed photos of the TC leaders at the event. Mr. V. Manivannan, a TC candidate at the Jaffna Municipal Council (JMC) was merely mentioned as present. In a long story detailed by Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole of the EC, the police charged only the priest, and when the EC complained, only Manivannan. 

It was amazing that when the complaint was the violation of Section 82 of the Local Authorities Election Ordinance about campaigning at a religious assembly, the police charge-sheet was violating Section 81 about campaigning close to a polling station. It was designed to find Manivannan not guilty. The B-Report did not contain the photographic evidence and news reports given to the KKS Police by the complainant, the ITAK Candidate Mr. S. Suhirthan.

Although Hoole was not a party, court papers showed he was and claimed he was served summons, but there is no record of it. The judge, Mr. A. Judeson, described by a lawyer present as unhinged, launched an attack on Hoole without verifying that he had been served notice. He ruled that Hoole as a Christian should never have charged a Hindu! He dismissed the charges in a small part of the morning. He faulted Hoole without giving him a hearing. And of course, he found no evidence to sustain the charge when there really was none on the offence he was charged with. Many lawyers see corruption written all over the case. Some say that a senior female TNPF lawyer from Uduvil/Chunnakam visited Judeson in his chambers just before the hearing and that may explain many things.

The Mallakam Registrar denied Prof. Hoole the court transcript when he first heard of the judgment from press reports. The Registrar first  asked for a letter from a lawyer, and then after getting that asked for time to prepare the transcript while Mr. Kumaravadivel Guruparan, counsel for Manivannan, was waving the transcript at a press conference threatening action against Prof. Hoole. By the time Prof got the transcript, he says, it was too late to appeal. 

Interestingly, Mr. Guruparan is the Head of the Law Department at Jaffna University. Information obtained by Prof. Hoole through RTI shows that he has been given special permission by the University Council to practice law from the chambers of Ms. Abimanasingam, PC, despite his full-time university appointment. Yet he has appeared in many TNPF cases with Ms. Abimanasingam nowhere on record. His father is a Member of the University Grants Commission, which appoints the majority of Jaffna Council members who gave Guruparan permission to work for Ms. Abimanasingam while paid by the university. Prof. Hoole says the matter is being investigated by CIABOC.

Prof. Hoole complained to the Judicial Service Commission and the Bar Association and did not even receive any acknowledgement. The EC also wrote a reminder to the JSC and got no reply. It seems clear to me that the JSC is unwilling to act against lawyers and judges.

Jaffna Municipality

In Court of Appeal Case No.  CA 217/2018 by Stephenson Ronoldon Versus V. Manivannan, it is because there is prima facie evidence that Manivannan did not qualify on grounds of residence to contest the elections to the JMC that the court has issued an interim order prohibiting him from functioning as member of the JMC. Till the end of the case Mr. Ronoldon, a voter within the JMC area, has alleged Mr. Manivannan’s ineligibility to be a member based on residence. 

Court papers show that Mr. Manivannan was not registered as a voter inside the JMC area, and to all appearances had no eligibility to be so registered in Jaffna – the either-or clause to be eligible to be a candidate  His party had published photographs of his voting elsewhere (in Kokkuvil West). His nomination papers had the fudged Jaffna address of Sir Pon Ramanathan Veethy for him with no house number. In court, he claimed an address in Vannarponnai within the JMC but was not registered as a resident there on the householders’ list. The chief householder at the Vannarponnai address was or had been a TC candidate. For his identity card issued by the JMC after it met in March 2018, he had given his Kokkuvil address where he had his vote.

It appears that after filing nominations Mr. Manivannan bought a property at Sir Pon Ramanathan Veethy. His attorney, Ms. Kajapiriya Manickavasagar, also of Kokkuvil, has drawn up a deed where the deed requires the date in four places. In the first three places, it is dated 29 December 2017 which appears to have been altered to 10 December 2017. In the fourth place, the date remains 29 December 2017. The allegation is that in forging the dates, he forgot the fourth date. The stamp duty on the land transaction has to be paid at the Municipality. The receipt for this stamp duty has to be then pasted on the deed and it is dated 29 Dec. 2018. The stamp duty receipt states that the date of registration is 29 December. The deed states that it was filed at the land registry on 2 Jan. 2018.

The significance of these dates is that nomination was on 21 Dec. 2018. The date of the deed will establish whether he was eligible to be a Jaffna candidate on that date – was it filed before or after the date of nomination? This will explain why 29 Dec. was changed to 10 Dec. The Court of Appeal judges had suggested that because of all this confusion Mr. Manivannan might like to resign. He wanted time to think about it.

As these problems mounted, TC sources say that Mr. Manivannan has sounded his party on whether he may resign as JMC Member before the court decides. Whether such resignation would foreclose any possible case on forgery is doubtful and might explain why he has not resigned.

Threatening a Public Official

The third case concerns a speech Mr. Manivannan made against Prof. Hoole at a public meeting in Jaffna where he threatened to launch an attack on him alleging that Prof is acting as an agent of the ITAK, the TC’s electoral rival. It is a very serious charge under Penal Code Article 186. The police tried to dissuade Prof. Hoole from complaining by saying it is not an election matter. Then after he insisted and filed a complaint, the Police asked him to come to Colombo to make a report at the Special Investigations Unit I, and then when he got there the Police asked him to go back to Jaffna since they had no one to take down a complaint in Tamil and therefore he should go to a Muslim officer in Jaffna. Back in Jaffna, after the Muslim Officer said he can only speak Tamil but not write in Tami and Prof. Hoole complained about the run around, the police said there was no need for a complaint and that they would proceed with the case.  

When the case came up before Judge S. Saseekaran in Jaffna on 11 June 2018, the charge was found to be under Section 486 of the Penal Code on threatening a person – a very minor charge indeed. The EC protested to the IGP. There was no response. It was still 486 on the last hearing on 5 October when I was not present in court, but a friend counsel was and what I write here is based on her report to me. 

The prosecuting policeman agreed to change the charge to 186 on the next date which is 13 Nov. However, judge Saseekaran seemed in a hurry. He asked Prof. Hoole if he would agree to mediation and Prof refused. Despite that, he ordered mediation. If Prof. Hoole agreed to settle, Manivannan would be deemed not guilty and be free to continue to engage in his malpractices against voters.

When Prof asked for a copy of his complaints to police being released by the police who insisted on a judicial order or a lawyer’s request, the judge and Guruparan and his 3 or 4 co-counsel laughed. (Prof. Hoole in his letter to the Mediation Board uses the word sniggered – meaning to laugh in a half-suppressed, typically scornful way). It was intimidating. In a normal court, a witness has a right to have a copy of his complaint to ensure that it is properly recorded and that he did not forget anything. The police had asked for the judge’s order to release Prof. Hoole’s own statement to him, and now the judge laughs at Prof in open court. This does not seem fair.

Prof. Hoole turned up at the mediation Board today, Sunday 14 Oct. Manivannan did not show up. After waiting for long, he was told he has to come on three more Sundays before they can close the case on grounds of no-show. Surely the judge knew all this when he sent a busy person holding a high office who came in the public interest as a witness to a crime against society on a wild-goose chase. On the 5th after convening court at 9:30 AM, Judge Saseekaran suddenly got up at 120:30 saying court in adjourned till noon and did not show up till much later. Judges need to be more courteous because those waiting did not dare to go away for lunch when he did not show up at noon, in case their names were called up.

After a long wait, Prof gave a letter saying the judge exceeded his authority in ordering mediation especially after he declined the offer, and that Section 8 of the Mediation Act allows such orders only when the matter is before a civil court (whereas a magistrate’s court is a criminal court) and that too only with the written consent of both parties. He argues that if he settled it before a change in the charge, Manivannan’s offence would be seen as a personal grudge and not an offence against society. Such settlement he said would lead to a person who habitually violates election laws to continue to break elections laws and stop the Election Commission from doing its work in upholding election laws. He said he (himself) has no right to overlook an act against society. He said mediation was a hurried means of compounding an offence that is not compoundable, especially after the police said they would change the charge to 186.

Prof. Hoole informed the Mediation Board that he would appeal Judge Saseekaran’s decisions. He has until 19 October to find lawyers, explain the situation and file. Would he?

Conclusion

It really seems that lawyers working for the TC, judges who see such lawyers on a daily basis, the judicial Service Commission and the police who are easily bought for Rs. 300 on the A9 highway as Professor Hoole claims from his experience on that road, are determined through a conspiracy to ensure that the people’s franchise is violated to allow TC lawyers to cheat voters.

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