United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto has called for a more acceptable composition of Tamil speaking judges, and police in the country.
In her preliminary observations and recommendations at the conclusion of her official visit to Sri Lanka, Pinto said that while the society in Sri Lanka is predominantly Sinhalese, with important Tamil and Muslim minorities, which in the North and East of the country are in a majority position, the diversity of the population is not reflected in the composition of the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office, or the police, or in the language in which proceedings are conducted.
“For instance, there are very few Tamil-speaking judges appointed at the highest levels of the judiciary – in fact, with the exception of the current Chief Justice, there are no Tamils in the superior courts (Supreme Court and Court of Appeal). Police forces, in charge of investigation and the first steps to initiate criminal proceedings, are also composed of a large majority of Sinhala-speaking people. There are also very few Tamil-speaking State counsels in the Attorney-General’s office,” she said.
She therefore urged for diversity in recruitment of judges, state counsels, and police officers, while also emphasizing upon the need for qualified interpreters to be assigned to tribunals as a measure to guarantee due process.
“The police force also plays an important role in judicial criminal proceedings, for this reason they should be appropriately trained. The police force should incorporate members of the 8 different groups living in the country and speak all the languages of the country. Not only policemen should be able to communicate in Sinhalese and in Tamil, but they should be able to do so when recording the statement of detainees, so as to produce reliable pieces of evidence before the judges and to observe due process. As the police assumes the prosecutorial role before magistrate courts, its officers should be adequately trained to discharge this delicate function,” she said.
Pinto also urged the government to ensure that every person detained has access to a lawyer from the moment of the arrest and that every person is told about this right. “This right should be enshrined in the Constitution but pending an amendment, it should be embodied in national legislation and law enforcement agents should be entrusted with the duty to tell detainees about their rights,” she said.
Pinto noted that the frequent practice of confessions – especially in cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act – and the plea bargain – which is not explicitly provided for in legislation in force -, if they are kept, should be coupled with some evidence supporting them, so that the judicial proceeding fulfills its function of shedding light to the facts. “Truth is but one of the goals of the judicial process,” she emphasized.
According to her, the country’s judicial proceedings are too long, and the time they involve affect especially people deprived of liberty. It amounts to a denial of justice. Cases are regularly postponed. Judges cannot afford the number of cases they have to deal with. The Criminal Investigations Department and the government Analyst Department are centralized in Colombo and conduct investigations for the whole justice system.
“Criminal prosecutors are overburdened. The backlog of Tribunals, in both civil and criminal matters, should be considered so as to be the object of some work plan to tackle the delays and to prevent their occurrence. Some elements to be taken care of are the increased capacities of the Mediation System Board, the increase in the number of judges and the establishment of some more courts in different parts of the country and some family courts, the clear cut difference in the prosecutorial services in the Attorney-General’s office so as to have a strong Prosecutor’s Office, and the implementation of an evaluation of performance plan,” she said.
“Sri Lankans need to be in a position to reach the courts and to have their cases timely adjudicated. 335 judges at all instances and in the whole country, a number given to us by the Judicial Service Commission, seem insufficient for a population of more than 20 million inhabitants. Further, the number of judges does not seem enough to deal with the variety and complexity of legal issues faced in Sri Lanka. Appointing more judges also needs to be accompanied by adequate facilities and resources, including building new court houses,” she added.
Click here to read Preliminary observations and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto