A controversial High Court Judge lambasted Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam in open court last week, calling him a “spineless coward” in what witnesses said was a major breach of judicial protocol and discipline.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the High Court judge was directing his ire at the Attorney General over Rajaratnam’s refusal to transfer a State Counsel of the Attorney General’s Department out of the Colombo High Court at Thotawatte’s demand.
The High Court judge abused the powers of his office to ensure the State Counsel’s transfers coincided with his own, repeatedly requesting the Attorney General to order her transfer from regional high court to high court, sources said.
The young State Counsel in question was initially posted in Matara as the AG’s representative to the High Court there, when Thotawatte served as High Court judge for the area. The State Counsel was subsequently transferred to Kurunegala – where Thotawatte also served as HC judge. Thotawatte exerted his political influence to ensure the State Counsel was transferred to Kurunegala, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Subsequently, the State Counsel was transferred to High Court 1 in Colombo where Damith Thotawatte currently presides, also at the request of the judge, sources told Colombo Telegraph.
According to persons familiar with the situation unfolding between the judge and the state counsel, Thotawatte’s attentions have been repeatedly rejected. In retaliation, she has been barred from entry to the judge’s chambers with her fellow prosecutors, and HC Judge Thotawatte has ordered AG Rajaratnam to remove the State Counsel from the Colombo High Court forthwith.
Colombo Telegraph reliably learns that AG Rajaratnam had finally refused Thotawatte’s request, which led to the High Court Judge’s tirade against the AG in open court. The State Counsel who has become the subject of Thotawatte’s ire was before the judge when he railed against the Attorney General, referring to him as a spineless man and a “patholaya”.
The State Counsel made an official complaint regarding Judge Thotawatte’s outburst to her immediate supervisor Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris, who took the complaint to Senior Deputy Solicitor General Cheithya Gunesekera, who in turn notified Additional Solicitor General and head of the criminal branch Priyantha Nawanna. Colombo Telegraph learns that while Nawanna reported the events in open court to Attorney General Rajaratnam, the AG had decided not to forward the complaint to the Chief Justice or the Judicial Service Commission as recommended by his ASG, preventing any serious investigation of judicial misconduct against Damith Thotawatte.
Senior judges would be wary of disciplining High Court Judge Thotawatte due to his well-known allegiance to the current ruling administration. Damith Thotawatte was hand picked for transfer to the Colombo High Court from Kurunegala, to ensure his docket included cases of particular interest to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the ruling regime.
As such, Colombo High Court Judge Damith Thotawatte, son of famous film editor Titus Thotawatte, will adjudicate several high-profile criminal cases including the abduction and suspected murder of Prageeth Ekneligoda. Several witnesses, who originally claimed the orders to abduct Ekneligoda had come from then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa have recanted their confessions before the magistrate during the trial. Senior military intelligence officials are implicated in Ekneligoda’s disappearance and suspected murder and several initially confessed that the abduction took place on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s orders.
Thotawatte was also handpicked by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to preside over the criminal case filed against SJB MP Champika Ranawaka. As High Court Judge, Thotawatte also recently acquitted magistrate Thilina Gamage, who was indicted by the Attorney General on charges of illegal possession of an elephant calf and elephant trafficking. Thotawatte decreed that the trial against two other accused, a former clerk at the Wildlife Department and the original owner of the baby elephant, would continue before his court.
In September 2021, the Supreme Court appointed Damith Thotawatte as chairman of a three-judge bench that will hear cases against suspects involved in the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, another case President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a vested interest in, as he tries to deflect blame from high-ranking security personnel aligned to his regime in the deadly terror attacks.
When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted him as a High Court Judge, Thotawatte who once served as Judge Advocate General for the Sri Lanka Army, continued to retain all of his military perks, including a vehicle convoy, security and his formal military rank of Brigadier/Colonel. Judge Advocate Generals are ceremonially conferred military rank for the duration of their appointment because they preside in military court.