By Basil Fernando –
Last week, two troubling events took place for the Sri Lankan legal profession: First, the Minister of Justice threatened a lawyer who made a comment in a television discussion regarding some attacks on churches. The Minister said he will take steps to remove the lawyer from practice. Subsequently, the lawyer was mentioned by name by one of the members of the Asgiriya Karaka Sabahawa in a televised interview. These incidents raise questions about the role of the Bar Association.
Professional associations are there primarily to protect the interests of its members. Such interests include the defence of professional integrity and the protection of the capacity to practice one’s profession without fear or favour.
Professional associations are not meant to be driven by ideological considerations or by political affiliations. A professional association must decide its actions on the basis of well-entrenched principles. Each profession has its own requirements so that members of each profession can do their work only on the basis of those professional norms and standards.
Therefore, on this particular occasion, the only consideration should be the defence of a particular lawyer who has been unjustly attacked. Like in other professions, members of the legal profession also, in their own personal and private capacities, may belong to whatever political groups they wish to belong to. They can also have their own personal idiosyncrasies.
An essential aspect of professional conduct is to be able to separate those matters that are of a personal nature and those matters that are relevant to the practice of the profession.
Therefore, in this particular instance, it should be considered a matter of honour that every elected member of the Bar Association will act in unison to defend what is fundamental to their profession.
In the past, we have seen lawyers being murdered for no other reason except the practice of their profession on behalf of their clients. After these things happen, the Bar Association usually makes statements of condolences and subsequently keeps on referring to those victims of violence.
However, what is needed is to act before foreseeable wrongs are done, thereby preventing the consequences of such actions.
A member of the Bar Association should be able to have an expectation that the professional association that he belongs to will stand by him when he faces dangers and threats, and that he will not be betrayed by the Association and its leaders.
Incidents like this particular case are tests of strength or weakness, and the nature of the professional association itself. If the association fails on such occasions, it damages itself, although a few people may win some personal favours as a result of their betrayals. It is to be hoped that the honour of the Association will be upheld and that there will be no room for treachery.