he nation is paying a glorious and unprecedented tribute to the prelate the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Hamuduruwo who in his vision and mission was like a model proactive judge holding the scales evenly and getting closely involved in the battle for social justice for all people whether they be rich or poor, the powerful or the powerless. This would be an appropriate time to reflect on the Noble Eight-fold Path and Sri Lanka’s judicial process which during the past 15 years was severely undermined and suffered body blows from party political leaders. Along with the attack on judicial independence, we also saw a breakdown in the rule of law, leading to authoritarian trends which leaders such as Sobitha Hamuduruwo courageously challenged and fought against.
One of the world’s most eminent jurists, Justice C.G. Weeramantry, former Senior Vice President of the International Court of Justice has made an enlightened analysis of the positive effects the Buddha Dhamma should and could have on the judicial process. Justice Weeramantry says that in its noblest dimension the judicial service is one of the highest forms of responsibility that any individual is called to. An important source of wisdom which can illuminate judicial responsibility is the vast repository of instruction concerning human conduct contained in the teachings of the great religions.
Regretting the growing separation between law and religion, he says religious teachings could make wonderful contributions to sustain a wiser, more equitable, more humane and more understanding discharge of judicial responsibility. According to Justice Weeramantry, Buddhism has a wealth of teaching and minute analyses regarding the working of the human mind.
Likewise, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also vast reservoirs of wisdom and inspiration for judicial conduct. An area of deep relevance to the judiciary which is as yet largely unexplored in the judicial context is the teaching of Buddhism regarding the rules of righteous conduct. According to Justice Weeramantry, right thought has been deeply analyzed in Buddhist teachings and includes concepts of detachment, helpfulness, concern for others and diligence. There must be an elimination of irrelevance, partiality, anger, jealousy and enmity.
Buddhism also says right concentration is a prerequisite to right decision making. The factors impeding right concentration are numerous. They include both physical and mental drawbacks ranging from hunger and anger to false impressions about parties caused by wrongful processes of assessing people. Indeed, concentration of mind is a subject perhaps better developed in Buddhist literature than even in the books on psychology.
According to the scholar judge, right concentration by itself does not suffice. Buddhist thought takes us further into the necessity for right mindfulness. A case affects not only the two parties involved, but others around them and society as a whole. This wider also perspective needs to be taken into account by the judge. One must be mindful of the effect of one’s decision upon those around the litigants. It must be perceived as a fair judgment. Sufficient reasons must be given for the judgment. Judges often deliver judgments without due consideration of the need to make the reasons for their decisions clearly understood by litigants and by society in general. This means that the judge must take great care in formulating the judgment so that the reasons for it becomes patently clear and acceptable to all.
There should also be mindfulness of the practicality of one’s decision and mindfulness that one’s decision may have a progressive or a retarding influence on the development of the law. There should also be mindfulness of the need to temper law with justice and mindfulness of the shortcomings of the legal system.
Justice Weeramantry says Buddhist thought regarding correct decision-making also goes into the area of right vision. Correct decision-making requires a long-term view of the consequences of the decision for the future. In legal systems based on Common Law procedures, decisions of the higher judiciary themselves make law and Supreme Court judges need, therefore, to be intensively concerned with the long-term effects of their judgments. A long-term vision is therefore essential to the proper discharge of their functions.
If Buddhism thus requires long-term vision for the decisions an individual takes even more so would it require such a long term vision for judges.
Justice Weeramantry has also analyzed the other dimensions of the Eight-fold Path, right livelihood, right speech, right action and right effort. It would be good for members of the Judicial Services’ Association, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and others to meditate on these dimensions in the new mission to restore the nobility and independence of the judicial service.