This week commenced adding another blood stain on Sri Lanka’s judicial independence. The Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Manjula Tillekaratne was assaulted in broad daylight just days after his public statement where he indicated existing threats to the security of those in the ‘highest positions in the judicial sector’.
The alleged invitation by the Executive, to the three JSC members including the Chief Justice for a meeting, was the starting point of the fiasco. In response, while rejecting the invitation, the JSC Secretary issued a public statement that indicated threats and intimidations on his fellow members of the JSC and the various influences that are being made on their decisions. Secretary Tillekaratne’s public statements were met with a string of criticism and charges, particularly by the state media that threatened his credibility to remain in the JSC, which reiterated the gravity of the threats levelled against the Judiciary.
The recent events however are not the first of their kind. During the tenure of late President J. R. Jayewardene in the early 80s, a group pelted stones at a judge’s residence. The violence further escalated during the term of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with the assassination of the late Justice Ambepitiya and most recently, the attack on the Mannar Magistrate's Courts said to have been orchestrated by a government minister.
An attack on a member of the judiciary, the sacrosanct citadel of fundamental rights and civil liberties is not a run-of-the-mill incident. Such hapless events only reflect the impunity that has run rampant in the country. The turn of events is most disturbing and dangerous, as they undoubtedly incur a great bearing on civil liberties. To maintain the rule of law, judicial independence is a vital factor. The existence of an independent judiciary, at least for namesake is observed as a deterrent of all threats against a democratic rule. Thus, the withering of judicial independence is a death knell to Sri Lanka’s remaining democracy.
Despite the many condemnations and protests against the attacks on the judiciary at the moment, the question remains as to whether the perpetrators will be brought before justice, or forgotten beneath the many layers of pending investigations adding to the existing cynicisms among masses. The observation of the mere existence of justice is not sufficient, but the message that justice is being delivered should be felt by the masses, in order to preserve the rule of law.
When the judiciary - the very institution dedicated to delivering justice to the masses-is facing direct altercation, where can the people look to? Only time will tell whether the judiciary will survive these blows or whether the Rubicon has been passed for lawlessness to reign.
“Threats to judicial independence jeopardiSe civil liberties Former CJ Sarath N Silva
“The conflict between the Executive and the Judiciary has been building up for sometime as I observe. However if the Judiciary is threatened it should be dealt with speedily. When I was holding office as Chief Justice, Justice Ambepitiya was assassinated following his verdict on a narcotics case and we had the necessary resources and capacity to deal with it immediately. This attack on the JSC secretary should be dealt with in the same manner because it affects people’s rights as the Judiciary is the ultimate bastion which protects the people’s rights” said former Chief Justice Sarath N Silva.
He noted that the attack on the JSC secretary could not have been carried out if the perpetrators had not been under the government patronage.
“Look at how Sarath Fonseka was indicted and jailed. He did not get redress from court and ultimately it was President who pardoned him and yet his civic rights were denied. Peaceful protests were attacked in the most brutal manner. Fisherfolk died in protests and innocent worker in the Free Trade Zone had to pay from his life because of the actions of the law enforcement authorities. These aggrieved parties have not been provided with redress and how can a layman look up to anyone to deliver justice” he said.
He stated the masses could see that no redress was given to those who were denied of their fundamental rights. He said that it is important not to aggravate this conflict between the Judiciary and Executive as it will directly impact the fundamental rights of the people.
“The judiciary also has been bland in the recent times and suddenly when it takes a different course this is how the government reacts to that change in direction. It is tit for tat in the highest form and the government is acting in the most puerile manner in their confrontational approach” said the former chief justice.
“Open confrontation with the judiciary, not a good precedent” Wijedasa Rajapaksa
“The past week’s events indicated that the executive has gone to direct confrontation with the judiciary which is not a good precedent. This government claims that the international community shouldn’t interfere in internal issues. However they allowed representatives from the Inter Parliamentary Union to observe the court case against Minister Rishad Bathiudeen which clearly shows that the government has no confidence in the country’s judicial independence. This move announced the whole world the nature of Sri Lanka’s judicial independence” said Wijedasa Rajapaksa, President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL)
While condemning the attack on the JSC secretary Rajapaksa said that the BASL has passed several regulations to condemn the interferences in the judiciary and to express the lawyers’ solidarity with the Judicial Officers’ Association to abstain from court activities.
He said the BASL will make a request from the President to bring the perpetrators of the attack before justice and to conduct an impartial investigation. He added that the threats to the judiciary have increased recently and the Bar Council will meet on Saturday to discuss about the future course of action to be taken to restore judicial independence.
“The acts will strengthen the emerging
authoritarianism” Convener, ‘Lawyers for Democracy” Lal Wijenayake
“We don’t see this as a mere attack on the JSC secretary but an attack on the Judiciary and its independence. The attack is a gross violation of the constitution which everyone starting from the head of State to down to the ordinary citizen is bound to protect and uphold. The criminal and unconstitutional acts will strengthen the already emerging authoritarianism in Sri Lanka” said Lal Wijenayake Convener of ‘Lawyers for Democracy” a representative body of legal practitioners throughout the island.
The ‘Lawyers for Democracy’ condemned the attack on the JSC secretary as dastardly and cowardly and pointed out that unless the perpetuation of these acts are nipped from the bud, judicial independence and rule of law which are the bedrock a democracy will be destroyed completely.
“Result of extreme politicisation” Prof. Goonesekera
“Continuous attacks on the judiciary clearly reflects the heavy politicisation, particularly of the Police and law enforcement authorities,” Prof. Savitri Goonesekera, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Colombo said commenting on the current plight of the country’s judicial system.
She pointed out the recent attack on the JSC secretary and the attack on courthouses, reflect on the state’s inability to protect its citizens from violence and uphold the rule of law. “When the attack on the Mannar Magistrate's Courts took place and protests were staged against it, one hoped such events would not recur. But most unfortunately, they have recurred and it reflects poorly on the law enforcement process in the country. Moreover, in these cases we have not seen that justice was delivered or the perpetrators being brought before the law,” Professor Goonesekara said adding the continuing trend to attack members of the judiciary is a terrible indictment on Sri Lanka’s judicial system. Speaking further she added the politicisation of these sectors should be put to a stop immediately for law and order to prevail.
“The government is gravely concerned” Justice Minister
Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem speaking to Daily Mirror vehemently rejected accusations of the government’s involvement in the attack on the JSC Secretary and assured the government is dedicated to upholding the independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary.
“It is unfortunate that people are trying to straightaway accuse the government of being involved in this crime without perceiving the incident in a balanced manner. The investigations on the incident have initiated and are continuing upon the President’s instructions. The government intends to get to the bottom of the incident and expose the culprit, as keenly as all other parties who call for justice to be delivered,” he said.
Speaking further he appealed to all factions to approach the recent attack as well as the concerns on judicial independence through a balanced view. “We admit there are genuine concerns but it is important to refrain from aggravating the situation,” he added.
If the independence of the Judiciary is not restored soon , the people will have to look into other avenues for justice.
Manel Fonseka Friday, 12 October 2012 06:29 AM
I would argue that the assassination of Justice Ambepitiya, foul though it was, does not fall into quite the same category as the other events referred to earlier in this column, or the attack on the Mannar courts. Surely, it was never suggested that Justice Ambepitiya's murder had a government hand behind it. It is supposed to have been by drug lord/s, and one allegedly such has been tried and convicted and is in death row.
Manel Fonseka Wednesday, 10 October 2012 01:02 PM
Correction to my previous posting: I should have written "your columnists' " not "your editorial" My apologies to the editor! - MF
My apologies to the editor! - MF')" type="button" class="btn btn-outline-secondary btn-sm" style="padding-top: 0px; padding-bottom: 2px">Reply
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