Editorial/Opinion

Justice delayed is justice denied

These days, there is a flurry of activity at the Attorney General’s (AG) Department, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Police, and in Hulftsdorp where special courts have been set up specifically to hear cases against individuals of the last regime.

Given how gullible people can be to the usual election rhetoric, one cannot help but notice that the ground is being set for a repetition of the 2015 propaganda, with the only difference being that this time around, cases have actually been filed against some of the suspects while the key players have judiciously managed to avoid being implicated in the high-profile cases.

Going by recent history, one cannot help but surmise that it must be election time. For it is the time that long-forgotten cases are resurrected and the events re-enacted for political benefit. But it remains to be seen whether this recipe will be as effective as it used to be, given the increased awareness of the people. Nevertheless, the process goes on while fingers continue to be pointed at the authorities over the fact that the big fish are being selectively spared and the small fry are being caught in the net.

For over four years now, the Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe Government has dragged its feet and done what it does best – procrastinate in order to delay the legal process with the intention of extracting whatever political capital out of the process.

The danger in all this is the fact that when the legal process is being carried out in order to suit the political agenda of a certain party, or parties for that matter, real justice may not be meted out to the victims and affected parties.

The allegations range from corruption to kidnapping and murder, basically covering the whole gamut of criminal activity. Recently, none other than the AG cautioned the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) not to rush half-baked case files to him as it would not help the cause. The cautioning was made with regard to the murder cases of Lasantha Wickrematunge and Wasim Thajudeen.

One can sympathise with the Police Chief for being in a hurry, given the current political compulsions. But the fact of the matter is that it need not be so.

Wickrematunge was killed in 2009 – 10 years ago – and so far, the best the Police has been able to do is to compile a half-baked case file. It is the same with the Thajudeen case – a murder which took place in 2012. If this is the speed at which the Police operate, one can only hope for divine intervention.

It is no secret that whatever one might say, the Government in power exerts a fair degree of influence on the legal process. This is nothing new and has been the case since time immemorial. Given this fact, one cannot help but wonder whether all the cases that are now being filed in a hurry could actually be concluded before the next administration takes office.

The reason is that if the cases were to drag on and were there to be a change of administration, it is a safe bet to say that the AG may not pursue these cases with the same vigour seen currently.

It is also the very reason why no legal action took place up until 2015 and election promises regarding justice being delivered became necessary.

The possibility of half-baked cases being filed runs the risk of them being dismissed as well, which no doubt will be a greater injustice to the victims who have patiently waited while the current Government, which came to power on the strength of its primary election promise of bringing those responsible to book, let them down once again.

It is a sad indictment on our society that it is necessary for a government to get involved in the country’s legal process in order to get things done when it has no business to do so. Meting out justice is the sole preserve of the State and it should remain so in order to ensure impartiality. But as things stand, it is the government of the day that dictates what gets done and what should not be done.

While the independence of the judiciary has been restored to a great extent in the recent past, the issue is with the process of getting cases filed. The new AG is supposed to be working at breakneck speed, but the backlog is far too great to be cleared during his term. Nevertheless, the effort is praiseworthy.

Last week, President Maithripala Sirisena publicly lamented the delay in the Bond Scam investigation while the Prime Minister on the other hand is pushing for some other cases to be expedited.

There is also pressure being exerted from various other quarters to go slow on certain cases. The job of the AG is certainly not an enviable one.

Whatever the political compulsions, it is essential that the AG acts in the interest of the people and puts country before politics. He, after all, should be more aware than others that justice delayed is justice denied.