The proposed amendment to the criminal procedure code continued to attract criticism, this time with the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expressing their opposition to the proposed amendment.
In a statement, AHRC said that this amendment is not merely an attack on the rights of a suspect. It is also a fundamental attack on the rights of the legal profession, the Commission also called on the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) to come forward and express their protest on this issue.
“The very idea of legal representation is for the purpose of ensuring that the client obtains the protection of law within a framework of rule of law and the due process of law. The notion of rule of law as well as the due process of law abhors the use of coercive methods in interrogations and recording of statements of suspects,” the statement said.
According to the AHRC, in the past, members of the profession and BASL fought for a long time to gain the right of representing suspects while in police custody and it was after many decades of struggle that the Inspector General of Police issued a Government notification under Section 55 of the Police Ordinance (Chapter 53) stated;
“…3. (1) Every Attorney-at-Law, who enters the precincts of a police station established under the Police Ordinance (Chapter 53) situated in any part of Sri Lanka, in his capacity of an Attorney-at-Law for the purpose of representing and watching the interests of a person who is the client of such Attorney-at-Law, shall be treated cordially and courteously and given a fair and patient hearing by the police officers attached to such Police Station, whatever their rank. (2) Every police officer attached to a Police Station shall not at any time during which he is dealing with an Attorney-at-Law present in such police station for the purpose of representing and watching the interests of a person who is his client, use physical force on the person of such Attorney-at-Law or resort to the use of abusive language or any other form of intimidatory conduct…”
This was published in the Government Gazette of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary) No. 1758/36 Friday, May 18, 2012.
According to the AHRC, a strange justification for the new amendment has been that the lawyers, if they are given a chance to meet the suspects before the interrogation and recording of a statement, may advise the suspect to make false statements. “Apart from being an insult to the entire legal profession of which the Bar Association of Sri Lanka should take strong note, the truth is to the contrary. For long years, getting false statements from the suspects by way of the use of torture and ill treatment and by other threats has been the practice of the Sri Lankan police,” the statement said.
“Under the circumstances, it is surprising that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka has not yet come forward to defend this hard earned right of the legal profession in Sri Lanka. It is to be hoped that the Bar Association President Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC, and his Bar Council will come forward immediately to express their protest on this issue and make sure that the Government withdraws the words ‘after the recording of the statements” from the said amendment and instead clearly state the right of the suspect for a legal counsel immediately on his arrest,” the statement added.
Last week, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) called on the Government to withdraw the proposed amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure Act which deprives suspects of access to lawyers until their statements are recorded. In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on 21st September 2016, the Commission’s Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama expressed concern that the Bill published in the Gazette on the 12th of August 2016, proposing to amend the Criminal Procedure Code, will deprive suspects arrested and detained by the Police of access to Attorneys-at-law, prior to the recording their statement, and will adversely impact on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of persons including the citizens of Sri Lanka.