Tribute to Hon. Justice S. Sriskandarajah
January 23, has become a memorable day in the annals of the Judiciary of Sri Lanka. The legal colossus, Justice S. Sriskandarajah, passed away on that day and his soul attained the supreme bliss of Moksha.
Justice Sriskandarajah had a single-minded determination and razor sharp acumen and he pursued justice with heart and soul. He never failed in courage and conviction even in deciding momentous constitutional issues. Even in the event of supreme peril, he manifested his valour and commitment to judicial independence when he, as President of a Divisional Bench of the Court of Appeal delivered the Order in a Writ of Certiorari Application, quashing the findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee made against the former Chief Justice 43, Shirani Bandaranayake, knowing fully well that his impending promotion would be snatched away by the rulers in the exercise of their arrogance of power. The other two Judges on that Bench were, Justice A.W.A. Salam, who retired as President of the Court of Appeal and the upright Justice Anil Gooneratne. All three intrepid judges translated the noble concept of judicial independence into action.
Justice Sriskandarajah held the scales of justice evenly and firmly to all. When a party was wronged, he dispensed justice in accordance with the Rule of Law but when he himself was wronged he could not speak for himself: and he had none to go to.
Although there were vacancies in the Supreme Court, both Justice Sriskandarajah and Justice Anil Gooneratne were not promoted to the Supreme Court but their juniors on the Bench were afforded places in the Supreme Court. Let us hope that the injustice caused to Justice Anil Gooneratne by the previous regime would be removed by the present government. Let justice begin from the Judiciary.
The indomitable President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Upul Jayasuriya, in a message of condolence, said of Justice Sriskandarajah: “From this day his vision would move away from our sight, but his mission partly unaccomplished, would linger in our hearts and memories and until such time he would not have died in vain. His legacy is precious. To follow his footsteps would be the greatest honour that could be conferred on him, upon his demise”.
The Chief Justice of Fiji, A.H.C.T. Gates observed that Justice Sriskandarajah “was a Judge who could bring his fellow Appeal Judges to his side or indeed be prepared to be himself persuaded. This way, a very open-minded approach and he was a delightful person of stature to serve with on an appellate bench’.
In the field of Administrative Law of Sri Lanka, Justice Sriskandarajah had delivered illuminating and constructive landmark judgments. He left behind an indelible mark of lasting and enduring legacy in the form of strata of judgments. In the judgment of Time Garments v Director General of Customs reported in (2008) BLR 239, he enlarged the concept of giving reason in administrative tribunal determinations and made it sine qua non. He held that failure to give valid reason would render the determination liable to be set aside.
In a writ of Certiorari Application, I managed with great difficulty to get notice from the then Bench of the Court of Appeal, comprising Justice Balakidnar (President) and Justice H.W. Senanayake. Upon notice being served, the then Senior State Counsel, Sriskandarajah appeared on behalf of the Attorney General and obtained a date to file statement of objection but he did not do so on the next date. Instead, he promptly informed Court that he was consenting for the order be quashed. Both judges of the Court of Appeal were taken aback and questioned him why he was consenting. He explained the reasons and informed Court that he had obtained the green light from his supervisor. Both judges examined his report tendered to his supervisor and the supervisor’s comment thereon. That was Sriskandarajah: his integrity was unchallengeable.
Justice Sriskandarajah will always be remembered and respected as one of Sri Lanka’s greatest and courageous judges.
Let me conclude with the words of Mark Antony from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
He only in a general honest thought And common good to all made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him, that Nature might stand up. And say to all the world, ‘This was a man’