After Ven. Maduluvawe Sobitha Thera, the ‘National Movement for Social Justice’ is not likely to play the role of foremost pressure group or make a significant impact in the present political arena. The prelate understood the root as a fault in the system and the need to rectify the error by amending the ‘document’ and he undertook to pioneer the movement fearlessly, heralding a new political culture. The relatively weak opposition; other poorly constituted Civil Society units, NGOs and numerous hastily assembled mushroom groups that joined him a year ago in defying the regime that was leading to authoritarian trends are today headless and are treading aimlessly. The responsibility inevitably falls on the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).
There is a clarion call by those who courageously stood by him to see this through as an everlasting monument to the legendary leader. Who can fill the void created by his untimely demise -- perhaps; it is the BASL that needs to answer the call: Rule of Law, good governance and formulating a new constitution lie within their ‘jurisdiction’.
Non-committal stand on the issue of Foreign Judges
The BASL, as per media reports, decided to take a non-committal stand on the issue of foreign Judges sitting on war crimes tribunals expected to be set up soon. By maintaining mum in this crucial issue, the Bar Association is creating a bad precedent. Lawyers have always been in the forefront in protecting the rights of the people and independence of the judiciary despite political pressure; the voiceless powerless people expect a lot from them. In the past, there had been attempts at injection of bitter power politics into BASL. Like any such society or club the BASL itself consists of politicians of all colours and shades. But the man who lead and guide should be free of direct affiliations and allegiance to a political party. Attempts by some Presidents in the past to politicise the respected professional body resulted in the creation of chaos and confusion: similarly, as we experienced in recent past, the Association heads with direct political links had caused divisions leading to open revolt by the membership causing ignominy -- fortunately, the current head appears to be a ‘non-aligned’ person.
The Bar Association, by virtue of its strength, backed by all enrolled Attorneys at Law [who automatically become members of this Apex body] has a powerful voice. Can they afford to sit on the fence and issue statements giving reasons on their neutrality?
The BASL has expressed its surprise over the incident where the Galle High Court had filed a case against President’s Counsel Rienzie Arsecularatne after his phone started ringing inside the Court house. Subsequently the lawyers attached to High Courts islandwide were planning a ‘peaceful’ showdown when the case against that senior lawyer was to be taken up before the Galle HC Judge on January 22. However, in a way of a motion, the case was taken up before the Galle High Court Judge and the proceedings were terminated. An unruly behaviour as witnessed by us a couple of years back, when a group of Attorneys barged into a Court at Hulftsdorp displeased over a delivery of a judgement to create a scene; a similar drama should not be re-enacted in Galle on January 22.
There should be certain courtesy between the Bar and the judicial officers; it is not a deliberate act on the part of the President’s Counsel; surely he had no intention to insult the Court but only a mistake and an accidental happening. In Mr. Arsecularatne’s own words “…similar incidents happen even in the Supreme Court where the Chief Justice presides over and also in the Appeal Court but justices would treat such incident in a humane manner.” When a mobile phone rings in the Court, attention of the Judges; of the arguing counsel is distracted. While the Judges and the lawyers are involved in the arguments and legal facts, then any such noise would be disturbing. When someone enters the Court, he or she must know that it is a revered place.
High Court Lawyers Association had affirmed that when a phone rang inside a Court room, it could not be considered a n action Contempt of Court as the occurrence was an involuntary act. Several seniors gave voice cuts saying it is not a deliberate act and some even went to the extent of making an indirect threat -- ‘If we don’t get a proper solution from other institutions, all High Court lawyers at Hulftsdorp would be present in Galle HC on January 22.
A man was sent to jail for yawning inside Courts recently? Law must be the same for everybody, why duplicity? Be it a prominent lawyer or a poor innocent man. Why all this hue and cry? There are enough burning issues for the BASL to deal with. No accident is intentional, but often due to negligence. We, laymen must not emulate the learned counsel, but hold that the ringing of the hand phone in the Court is contempt of the authority of Court.
“For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” - G.K. Chesterton