AttorneyGeneral Shanthi Eva Wanasundera spoke to the Daily Mirror about the lawlessness in the country, bringing back the death penalty and the various
allegations brought against Sri Lanka by the international community.
Q:Being the first woman to hold this position is an achievement. How did you get into the law profession and what was your career progression like?
I passed out as a lawyer in August, 1977 and then I practised as a private practitioner for two years. At the time my passion was to practise on my own and argue cases on my own, as an advocate. As I was not very highly connected and came from a middle class family—I didn’t go looking for a senior (lawyer) and neither was it easy for me to get a senior. It was my personal belief that if you work with a senior you may gather knowledge but you won’t necessarily be given to argue cases on your own. I thought that any lawyer passing out is a professional and should be able to argue cases on their own, as equal professionals.
Therefore I used to go to the nearest courts and practised criminal cases and civil cases; I continued this for some time. However my mother, who was not very educated, thought that I was working too hard and felt that clients coming home all the time was not very proper and urged me to join a government department. At the time the Attorney General’s Department was calling for State Councillors and I applied.
When I went in for the interview, I asked the panel when I would hear back from them. Thereafter when I was recruited they would constantly tease me about being so bold as to ask them this question.
When I joined I got involved in the civil side and although I was interested in criminal matters they never got me involved there, probably because I was doing quite well in civil matters.
I have always been a simple person, but at the same time brave.
Q:There are repeated calls for independent external investigations into the country, from the international community. There are also repeated threats to file war crime cases against the government or government individuals in international courts, as the legal representative of the government, what is the legal stance you will take in countering these allegations?
We are a single sovereign country and this sovereignty cannot be challenged by any other entity. Therefore unless we have signed for various treaties they cannot investigate into the country. The superpowers are always trying to force us into these investigations they have no legal right to do this.
Q: We are signatories to the Geneva Convention.
It has not happened to our country and I don’t think that they would want to do something like this even though there is such a hue and cry about it. And I believe they should not because the President did what was necessary to save the country. I have gone for 30 years; from home to work thinking that I might not return, because of the threat to our lives. Therefore I don’t think that anyone can say that we have violated human rights because the end of the war was to save all the citizens of the country.
Q: A war crime case has been filed against President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a court in Australia. What are the legalities involved in this and if the government of Australia approves this case, what will the procedures be like, on the part of the Sri Lankan government?
The President has immunity; therefore really the legal matters related to this cannot be discussed.
Q: With regards to diplomatic immunity, there are our envoys abroad and there are cases being filed against them. Can no legal action be taken against them, whatsoever while they are in these countries?
The President is immune and this notion comes down from this idea that a “King does no wrong”. However if say Somapala wants to file a case against the President, surely he can file a case; the lawyers will not say that this is impossible they will file the case. It is up to the President to take up the case. Anyone can go and file a case against anybody, because this is a free country.
In the world this same principle applies, any superpower can impose themselves and they can try filing cases, but it is only at that time that we can defend ourselves.
As the legal advisers to the government, and along with the president’s legal advisors we will find a way of addressing the case.
Q: The independence of your office has come into question, by members of the public because of the fact that your office comes under the Presidential Secretariat.
We are still very independent, and no I don’t feel like my independence has been threatened. This is because the President holds different Ministries and likewise our department comes under him, therefore it had not really made any big difference.
Q: Do you feel that the authority of your department has been lessened due to your submissions to the President?
No I don’t think so, still the judiciary is independent. They can always have their own judgments and act any way they feel is right. We are government servants and we don’t come under any minister and the minister can’t fire someone.
Q:After the passing of the 18th Amendment the President has supreme power; he has a great amount of say in appointing individuals involved in the judiciary.
No, I don’t think so. The President has done the right thing in appointing me, because I was the one who was to get the due promotion. He just appointed me, it is a matter of procedure.
Q: What is the status on the death penalty, because the State is now calling for executioners? Will it be implemented soon?
I think that this is something the whole world is debating. But the last time someone was hanged was when the Governor General was William Gopallawa. After that time no one has been hanged even though there was a death row.
Q:The conviction rate in the country is very low, at 4 per-cent. What is the reason for this?
It is because of the commonwealth system of law prevailing in the country as well as the Roman-Dutch law. Therefore all our parliamentary acts are mixed. In this system any suspect has to be proved guilty without a reasonable doubt. Sometimes judges also think “oh this person might be guilty” but this is not enough for conviction, it has to be proved without reasonable doubt. Therefore this is a very high standard of proof and it is a challenge to our department to adhere to this. If we win a case only then we feel that this is done.
But to collect the evidence to prove, without reasonable doubt is done by the police. And after investigations, they give us a dossier to prosecute and indict. There is a very strict system prevailing in the country that is why the conviction rate is so low. Sometimes I wish there was not such a high standard, but it is as high a standard as in England or anywhere else in the world, we can’t rate ourselves any less. In other Asian countries the standard is not so high, it’s like the literacy rate in our country.
Q:There is a general state of lawlessness prevailing in the country and the public feels that this is due to the fact that the legal system is not performing as it should. Does your department take any responsibility for this?
No the lawlessness in the country is because of all these thugs and underworld people and so many other factors are working towards that. It is the responsibility of the police to investigate, we have no hand in this investigation or collecting the evidence. It is all done by them.
PLP LIYANAGE Thursday, 27 October 2011 06:30
Authorizes should fight against crimes and should allow to operate free media to expose true conditions of the country. It is known that enewe has blocked to prevent information of true happenings of the country. If this is a really free democratic government these sort of things not be allowed to happen.
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Sana Thursday, 27 October 2011 21:07
The 4% conviction rate is ridiculous. Is the conviction rate really 4%?
Why prosecute if there is no reasonable prospect of conviction? If counties such UK, USA and Australia that require proof beyond a reasonable doubt can attain high conviction rates why not Sri Lanka? Is the low conviction rate is due to imcompetence rather than the burden of proof?
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