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BASL to comment on controversial directive to judges

  • Allegedly instructed to control protesters and public gatherings

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) will officially comment on reports yesterday (16) that judicial officers, including Magistrates, have been instructed to use Sections 98 and 106 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as amended to control protesters and public gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Section 98 of the Code deals with a conditional order for the removal or abatement of a public nuisance, while Section 106 of the same deals with the power to issue an immediate and absolute order in urgent cases of nuisance.

The Morning learnt that the BASL statement will be based on the discussions that took place at a meeting that the BASL executive committee held regarding the matter last evening.

The controversial instructions to the judicial officers had reportedly been issued at a recently held webinar with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) titled “Matters relating to judicial proceedings in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic” on 13 August.

According to a letter circulating on social media, the JSC, composed of President’s Counsel (PC) and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, and Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare PC and L.T.B. Dehideniya, had, along with another Judge of the Supreme Court, namely Justice Mahinda Samayawardhena, conducted the webinar.

The aforementioned letter had also informed that the “failure to participate at this webinar will be taken into consideration when recommendations are made for promotions, annual salary increments, foreign training, and appointment to the High Court”.

Following the meeting, the media reported that several Magistrates had expressed concerns about the instructions at the webinar as it had implied subtle pressure on the judicial mind.

National People’s Power (NPP) Opposition Parliamentarian Dr. Harini Amarasuriya yesterday called upon the legal community to address this issue seriously alleging it is a violation of the independence of the Judiciary.

“If what is being reported is true, it is highly unusual and seriously calls into question the independence of the Judiciary. Based on my understanding of the law, a judge gives a judgement based on evidence, and not based on preconceived notions. If they were made to understand at this meeting that they should give judgements in a certain way, then that is extremely shocking,” Dr. Amarasuriya told The Morning.

Commenting on this, Dr. Amarasuriya noted that this type of alleged compulsion is unacceptable.

Attempts to contact the Justice Minister M.U.M. Ali Sabry PC and JSC Secretary H. Sanjeewa Somaratne proved futile.

A range of demonstrations took place throughout Colombo over the last month in protest over the controversial General Sir John Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill and in demand of salary increments for school teachers. Protests also occurred due to the recent fuel price hike and the ban on chemical fertiliser over the last few months. Although reportedly the Police had sought Court orders to stop the protests on a number of occasions, the Magistrates had denied these requests.

Notably, education sector unions and activists who had participated in protests were arrested over the past few days. Activists Koshila Hansamali Perera and Chameera Koswatta were arrested on 3 August, while the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Convenor Wasantha Mudalige was arrested on 5 August. The Sri Jayewardenepura University’s General Student Association President Amila Sandeepa was arrested on 5 August near the Sri Jayewardenepura University and held at the Thalangama Police Station. IUSF representative Udara Sandaruwan and former IUSF Convener Ven. Rathkarawwe Jinarathana Thera were allegedly threatened on a number of occasions over the past two weeks.

 

BASL to comment on controversial directive to judges