Left to Right: Rivihara Pinnaduwa, Jayantha Dehiaththage and Migara Doss - Executive members of Young Lawyers’ Association
- Pics by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
The common practice at national elections is for political parties to raise slogans on democracy and judicial independence to win votes
Both private and public universities should produce an equal number of graduates to maintain the quality of legal education
The recent leaking of MP Ranjan Ramanayake’s recorded telephone conversations with top police officers and judges raised public concern over judicial independence, supremacy of the law, democratic norms and standards. Against this backdrop, the Young Lawyers’ Association (YLA) spoke to the media at the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR). The lawyers aimed at raising awareness on issues pertaining to the judiciary, democratic practices in previous and present governments and repealing of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
YLA member Jayantha Dehiaththage said government and opposition parties were overlooking fundamental issues facing the judiciary and democratic rights of people which were brought to light through the controversial audio clips.
“Fundamental issues including delays in court cases that lead to delays in justice, lack of facilities in courts, the number of cases assigned daily to a judge and procedures related to the promotion of judges have to be considered seriously. The common practice at national elections is for political parties to raise slogans on democracy and judicial independence to win votes. After an opposition party gained power, it fails to deliver the promises made on restoring democracy, supremacy and independence of the judiciary. The Yahapalana Government made many pledges on matters of democracy, supremacy and independence of the judiciary, but the manner in which it executed the promises made on political platforms is questionable,ˮ he said.
Dehiaththage said the incumbent government’s responsibility was to discuss how justice could be delivered to people through the judiciary system without undue delays. “But recent accusations against certain judges that came up with the release of MP Ramanayake’s voice clips has shifted the public focus,” he said.
DEMOCRACY REMAINS A SENSITIVE TOPIC
Rivihara Pinnaduwa, another YLA member,said before the Yahapalana Government came to power, the country’s democracy, Constitution and legislation were neglected during the
Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
“It was due to anti-democratic practices of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government that the Yahapalana regime, which espoused democratic slogans when in the opposition, swept into power. But the practices of the Yahapalana administration contradicted its slogans and the irony was not lost on the citizens. As the country has endured a three-decade long civil war, democracy still remains a sensitive theme,” he said.
Referring to the present government, he said that according to the 19th Amendment, the President could not hold a ministerial portfolio. Therefore, he said, not having a Defence Minister in the Cabinet highlighted a lack of democracy.
“During President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first national address, he addressed the nation on behalf of the Defence Minister. Unlike the previous regime that hid its anti-democratic activities from the public eye, the incumbent government is openly violating the Constitution which nobody questions,’’ he said, adding that the armed forces had been provided with powers equal to the police.
“Permits for sand, clay and gravel transportation were abolished last December through a Cabinet paper thus bypassing Parliament. This has led to excessive mining and transportation of sand, clay and gravel thereby causing much harm to the environment. These mining activities have adversely affected river basins countrywide. The powers vested in respective authorities have reached a point where they can amend laws for their own benefit. Current laws are sufficient to protect the general public from these hazards,” he said.
Migara Doss, another YLA member, criticised the government of attempting to revoke the 19th Amendment by projecting it as a hindrance to national development.
“The 19th Amendment emerged from socio-political changes that occurred over a period of time. The present government considers 19A as a hindrance to its economic model. Tracing back to 1977, the introduction of executive presidency meant the executive had absolute power to make high-ranking appointments. We experienced a southern youth insurrection in 1980s and a three-decade long civil war in northern areas. Workers were greatly suppressed by executive presidency. As a result of these excesses, there were recommendations in 1994 to decentralise the powers of the Executive President to the Constitutional Council which was ultimately formed in 2001. As an extension to this, 19A was introduced. After 2015, it had not been properly exercised. However, considering socio-political aspects, it does not mean 19A should be revoked,” he said.
Doss said the government’s main argument for wanting to revoke the 19th Amendment was that it would increase State sector efficiency and benefit development. Looking at State sector efficiency since 1977, there were instances when a Chief Justice (CJ) who was appointed by the Executive President and came under his direct purview had to comply with government decisions.
“If the CJ does not comply with government decisions, he or she is removed. Therefore, we do not agree with centralising the power to the executive. We see 19A as an essential component in political and societal structures needed to advance as a nation. During the 2019 presidential election, the President promised to increase daily wages of estate workers to Rs.1000, but the decision was expected to be in full effect from March. Hence, the prolonged issue of minimum wages for estate workers has not been solved,” he said.
Furthermore, he highlighted the discrepancy between higher education and the job market which causes unemployment. “There are thousands of unemployed graduates in the country and the government continues to promise them with job opportunities. Also, there are many problems in private legal education. Law College and law faculties in national universities produce 200-250 graduates per annum. Although private institutes offering law degrees produce more graduates than State universities, both private and public universities should produce an equal number of graduates to maintain the quality of legal education. Ensuring a proper legal education system is an appeal from citizens who want to benefit from good legal services. Therefore, it is the government’s responsibility to uphold the people’s democratic rights while understanding the importance of the judiciary in ensuring fair democratic practices,” he said.