As the battle for the head of Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), the policy making body of over 11,000 lawyers in the country heats up, the Daily Mirror queries from one of the two main contestants, Tirantha Walaliyadde on pertinent issues relating to country’s justice system, bar, law and order and important happenings related to the recent history. - By Susitha R. Fernando
Q: What made you to decide to lead the Bar?
To prevent it being politicised again. The main opponent is an out and out seasoned politician who contested general elections and lost. I have never dabbled in politics nor do I have any membership in any political party and I owe no allegiance to any politician or party.
Q:Can you be satisfied with the former leadership of the Bar specially under Mr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe who defeated you in the last election and the way the bar had been functioning?
No. Even Mr. Rajapakshe did not carry his second term of office this year and the Vice President resigned due to the unsatisfactory performance of the BASL. Q: You at a meeting with Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had proposed that legal issues should be discussed by the Bar Association with the Leader of the Opposition and as well as the Executive. Wouldn’t this affect the independence of the bar which is expected be free from political influence and interference?
The BASL is the foremost legal body in the country and must necessarily get involved the law making process without functioning like a private club. It is the BASL that can best advice the Legislature on the necessity of new laws, abolition of counterproductive laws like Title Registration and Stamp Duty which has caused severe inconvenience to lawyers and the public. I have already met with the President as well as with the Leader of the Opposition Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe regarding this issue and both requested me to forward draft proposals for necessary amendments and that they would look into the matter. It is essential that the President of the BASL has access to both the Government as well as the Opposition and have cordial relationships with both in order to streamline the law. So also with the Chief Justice and the Attorney General. I have that access and relationship.
Q: At the last election, when you contested with a Parliamentarian Mr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe your campaign theme was that ‘there should be no politics in the Bar Association elections’. But at this election you had been identified with most of the People Alliance politicians and you had also canvassed for the support ofMr. Ranil Wickremesinghe.
That is not correct. I met with the President and the Leader of the Opposition to discuss the issues relating to Title Registration and not to ask for their support at the election.
Q: Do you believe that to win the BASL election you need the support of politicians and the political parties?
No. But we need the assistance of the Executive, the Government and the Opposition to solve our problems. I visited the Ruwanwella Bar and saw that almost all the lawyers’ offices had been demolished without giving alternate accommodation. I received a call from an Eastern Bar that the roof of the Court house had collapsed and lawyers were standing in the rain. Some Bar Associations do not have consultation chambers. Some don’t even have a wash room. Judges complained to me of the shortage of stenographers and hence the delay in issuing certified copies of proceedings to lawyers. I have received complaints that the junior lawyers have no chambers and are facing many hardships. So these matters have to be addressed and rectified. There are many other issues to be looked into.
Q: When the Bar took a firm decision against the impeachment process you had publicly supported the impeachment. Hadn’t you acted against the majority wish of the bar?
Whatever resolution that was taken on that fateful day of the Bar Council meeting was not properly passed which was one of the reasons that the Vice President Mrs. Anoma Goonatileke resigned in protest.
Q: The Bar Association at a rare Special General meeting held on December 15 unanimously decided not to welcome a new Chief Justice, if appointed. You violated that decision and attended the welcome ceremony of the new CJ. How do you justify this and do you think you have moral right to lead the bar when you have acted against the majority wish?
As I stated earlier, that motion was not properly passed. Furthermore, there was a large gathering of lawyers including many President’s Counsel who attended the ceremonial sitting to welcome the Chief Justice Mohan Peiris PC.
" It is essential that the President of the BASL has access to both the Government as well as the Opposition and have cordial relationships with both in order to streamline the law. So also with the Chief Justice and the Attorney General. I have that access and relationship "
Q: With such backdrop and specially having lost with 1700 votes to Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakshe at the last election do you believe you can defeat your opponents this time?
Of course. The BASL is sick of politicians leading it. This view is held unanimously. And my opponent is a politician.
Q: Last year we saw a several lawyers including the house of the BASL president came under attack? As a senior member of the Bar how do you view these attacks?
Very seriously. If the law enforcement authorities do not conduct proper inquiries then the BASL will become an intervenient party and take necessary legal steps.