The controversy surrounding the alleged intimidation of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Upul Jayasuriya has thrust the veteran lawyer into the limelight as he deals with yet another tussle as the head of the country’s most influential body representing the legal fraternity.
Jayasuriya had lodged a complaint with the Cinnamon Gardens Police stating that he was followed by unidentified persons on two motorcycles while he was returning home from Hulftsdorp on July 15.
He alleged that those who had followed him wore face-covered helmets.
This was followed by another complaint by Jayasuriya to the Thalangama Police regarding two unidentified motorcyclists roaming near his residence at Pelawatta on July 15 and 17. Jayasuriya says he considers this a security threat against his life.
The issue was raised in Parliament. Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne in his response said the registration numbers seen on the vehicles which allegedly followed Jayasuriya were false. Jayaratne assured these vehicles did not exist, a claim that was disputed by the Opposition.
Opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe raised concerns about a ‘government conspiracy to kill Upul Jayasuriya’ and charged that the Government was not providing security to the BASL President and hiding the registration details of the vehicles. In the meantime, the revelation that Jayasuriya’s request to Police Chief N.K. Illangakoon for enhanced personal security had been referred to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence also led to protests.
Jayasuriya alleges that it is ridiculous to forward his request to the Ministry Secretary as powers had been vested with the IGP to act under the Police Ordinance. Under Section 22 of the Police Ordinance, the IGP himself could take the decision to provide additional security, Jayasuriya claims.
It is ridiculous to forward his request to the Ministry Secretary as powers had been vested with the IGP to act under the Police Ordinance. Under Section 22 of the Police Ordinance, the IGP himself could take the decision to provide additional security
Dealing with such issues and crossing swords with those in authority-even within the political party he supports, the United National Party (UNP) is second nature to Jayasuriya.
He may be the President of the BASL, but he is more of a street-fighter than a diplomat.
Jayasuriya is an old boy of Royal College, Colombo. He entered Law College in 1973 at the age of 17. He joined the Bar in 1976 at the young age of twenty, as one of the youngest attorneys at the time. He rapidly earned a reputation as a dynamic young lawyer even if discretion was not his forte.
He soon aligned himself with the UNP and was a protege of the then Trade Minister Lalith Athulathmudali. In 1982, at the age of 26, as the then UNP government was nearing the end of its first term, Jayasuriya was appointed as Chairman of the Sri Lanka State Trading Tractor Corporation.
Jayasuriya served the BASL as its secretary between 1991 and 1993, when Ranjith Abeysuriya was its President. It was also a tumultuous period when Ranasinghe Premadasa was in office as President and there were constant tussles between the Executive and the legal profession.
During this period Jayasuriya, as Secretary of the BASL, was instrumental in filing nearly 3,000 fundamental rights applications before the Supreme Court on behalf of those taken into custody in the 1989 insurrection staged by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
When Chandrika Kumaratunga was President, Jayasuriya was among a team of lawyers who defended the editor of the Sunday Times, who was charged with criminal defamation of the President. The case led to the repeal of criminal defamation laws.
Jayasuriya, who was also President of the Colombo Law Society in 2008, thereafter played an active role in the UNP, formerly heading the UNP National Lawyers’ Association (NLA). He was a vocal critic of Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, once publicly calling for his resignation.
That led to a dispute within the Association, with the Colombo Branch of the NLA dissociating itself from Jayasuriya’s remarks. After many similar public comments by Jayasuriya, he came to be identified as a loyalist of the Sajith Premadasa faction.
Jayasuriya is regularly in the news, being associated with many a legal wrangle that sees him on a collision course with the government. In 2009, the Defence Ministry branded Jayasuriya and two other lawyers, Srinath Perera and M.A. Sumanthiran as ‘traitors’ on the Ministry website.
In early 2013, Jayasuriya contested for the Presidency of the BASL. His campaign was conducted in the aftermath of the most controversial incident in Sri Lanka’s judiciary, the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Jayasuriya categorically condemned the impeachment. Jayasuriya was elected President of the BASL in February 2013 with a massive majority. Jayasuriya beat his main contender Tirantha Walaliyadda PC, the senior criminal lawyer, by a record margin of over 1,700 votes.
Walaliyadda campaigned on a platform of reconciliation with the Executive and the Legislature -- a slogan that failed miserably. Jayasuriya’s critics argue that he cleverly used the impeachment issue to ensure his election as BASL President.
Jayasuriya was a “personally unappealing, generally unpopular figure”, a senior lawyer reportedly said and noted that he was elected because “he stood against repression of judicial independence and destruction of the rule of law” which most lawyers considered to be an issue of top priority.
After his election, Jayasuriya went one step further. For his induction as BASL President, tradition was cast aside because Mohan Peiris was not invited for the occasion despite holding the office of Chief Justice.
Invited instead was Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake who graced the occasion as the 43rd Chief Justice of the country. It was also a reiteration of a previous position taken by the BASL that it would avoid engagements with Bandaranayake’s successor and would not ‘recognise’ him as such.
In his role as BASL President, Jayasuriya has never been shy to advocate the cause of the legal profession, often against those in authority but
his detractors would argue that his role is coloured by his political affiliations with the UNP. The latest controversy surrounding Jayasuriya’s safety and security may be resolved but it is certain that Upul Jayasuriya’s tenure as President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka will continue to be extremely contentious and controversial.