The Appeal Court on January 31 ruled that a petitioner, an MBBS graduate student of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) had the legal right to be provisionally registered by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) on the basis that she had fulfilled the necessary requirements laid down by the Medical Ordinance.
This has resulted in the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) and university students protesting against SAITM claiming they are protesting against the Health Ministry and not against the Court Ruling, because the ministry had not expressed its stance clearly during the court proceedings. Meanwhile, SAITM students and their parents point out that these protests in the wake of the Court ruling are tantamount to protesting against the ruling and that it amounts to contempt of court.
It is not clear whether the incident where SAITM’s CEO Dr. Sameera Senaratna’s vehicle had been shot at near SAITM on Monday has got anything to do with SAITM or the court ruling. If it is a manifestation of the protests against the private medical college, it could be interpreted as a challenge to the Court verdict and points to a dangerous turn of events.
Despite several doctors working in government hospitals engaging in channel practice or compelling patients to go to private hospitals by way of prescribing various tests for reasons only known to themselves, they seem to think that they have the right to oppose SAITM or for that matter private medical colleges. Students, who are agitating not only against SAITM but also against private medical colleges have the right to do so despite not fighting for an higher intake to the medical faculties in state universities. However their struggle must be waged within the legal framework and not by causing inconvenience to the people who are paying for their education.
Despite the GMOA and the university students claiming they are protesting against the Health Ministry or against SAITM in general and not against the court ruling, the new wave of agitation has been triggered by the court ruling which gives legitimacy to the private medical college in Malabe. Only another ruling by a higher court, namely the Supreme Court can reverse the ruling. Hence, all agitation against the Neville Fernando Hospital would amount to a rejection of the court ruling outside the judicial process and a slur on democracy.
Those against SAITM in particular or private medical colleges in general are not deprived of challenging the court ruling through the judicial process. Ignoring the court decision by way of agitation instead of resorting to due judicial procedures is a dangerous trend. We do not say this is a bad or dangerous precedence as the precedence had already been set by former leaders of the country. For instance, thugs of the UNP stoned the houses of the judges who gave rulings against the wishes of the rulers during President J.R. Jayawardene’s tenure. President Mahinda Rajapaksa ignored a judgment by the apex court of the country to reduce the oil prices and went ahead with his price hikes. It is no secret or part of this country’s history that in the past courts acted subservient to the then rulers.We do not want to reinvent that dark era in respect to judicial freedom.
SAITM has now become a political issue rather than a matter pertaining to free education or quality healthcare. This point is vividly evidenced by the opposition to it by the leaders of the former government during whose tenure the private medical college was launched and continued to function. Against that backdrop, challenging the Appeal Court ruling means challenging the judiciary by certain political parties. If this trend is allowed to continue or if courts are compelled to give in to these pressures, only judgments against the poor will be implemented. Hence, we reiterate that those who are against the court ruling can petition a higher court to annul the present court ruling, rather than encouraging the former trend of pressuring the judiciary by acting outside the law.