The Registration of Electors (Special Provisions) Bill referred to the Supreme Court for urgent consideration certified by the Cabinet of Ministers under Article 122 of the Constitution as being urgent in the national interest, was taken up for consideration today (04.06.2013) before de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, Justice Sathya Hettige and Justice Rohini Marasinghe.
A determination by the Supreme Court on such a matter is required by the Constitution to be communicated by the Supreme Court only to the President and Speaker of Parliament.
Deputy Solicitor General Arjuna Obeysekere with Senior State Counsel Shaheeda Barrie and State Counsel Manohara Jayasinghe appeared for the Attorney General. M. A. Sumanthiran with Viran Corea and J. Arulanantham appeared to assist court in considering the Bill. Sumanthiran told court at the beginning that the Bill was not made available and was only seen by him a shortwhile earlier in court.
Obeysekere explained to court, the purpose and intention of the Bill.
Sumanthiran stated that the object of the Bill to grant the right of franchise to the displaced is welcome, and that it is only a limited part of the Bill which raises concern. He stated that it is important that the electoral register used is the one prepared by a process commenced in June 2012. He said, between June 2012 and today there are many people who have gone back to the Northern Province who would not be enabled to vote in terms of the Bill as drafted. This is due to a defect in the definition of ‘internally displaced person’ in the Bill. Both Obeysekere and the court stated that this is a valid concern that should be addressed by amending the definition, so that more people are enabled to vote.
Sumanthiran also pointed out that the right for a person to object to wrongful inclusion of a name in the electoral register is not included. There is only a right of a person left out to appeal his rejection. This he pointed out, should also be remedied by clearly providing a right to do so.
Sumanthiran stated that under UN Guidelines, the term ‘internally displaced person’ refers to persons who are displaced within a state. The term ‘refugee’ is used for persons displaced beyond the boundaries of the state. He submitted that recently returned refugees (there being many especially from India) should also be enabled to gain a vote, since they are also citizens and the special legislation should ideally extend to enfranchise them too.
Pieris pointed out that clause 2 of the Bill lacked the word ‘or’ which should be included. He also said that he noticed that this legislation is part of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Action Plan.
Sumanthiran pointed out that it is necessary for administrative arrangements to be made to prevent people having to travel too far to exercise their fundamental right of franchise. He said this too is a matter that should be addressed seriously.
Submissions were concluded today. The President and Speaker are due to be informed of the court ruling by the Supreme Court, shortly.