News

JSC says it did not organise webinar

 

  • Responds to Justice Ministry inquiry
  • Notes Judges’ Institute exceeded JSC powers

 

BY Pamodi Waravita

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has stated that a recently held controversial webinar for judicial officers including magistrates had not been organised by the JSC but by the Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute and emphasised that the JSC does not get involved in any activity that is not based on the powers vested in them through the Constitution.

This is according to a letter dated 23 August addressed by the Justice Ministry Secretary to the Government Information Department Director General as seen by The Morning. The letter contains the clarification provided by the JSC to the Justice Ministry when inquired about the controversial webinar by the latter.

The JSC had noted that webinars of this nature are routinely conducted to give important information to judges and that this particular webinar had been conducted to inform judges on the subject of the Covid-19 regulations put forth by the Health Ministry.

According to a letter circulating on social media, the JSC had conducted a webinar titled “Matters relating to judicial proceedings in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic” on 13 August. As per the letter the JSC, comprising President’s Counsel (PC) and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya and Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare PC and L.T.B. Dehideniya, along with Supreme Court Judge Justice Mahinda Samayawardhena, had conducted the webinar on 13 August. Following the meeting, media reported that several magistrates had expressed concerns about it as it had implied subtle pressure on the judicial mind. The aforementioned letter had also informed that the “failure to participate in this webinar will be taken into consideration when recommendations are made for promotions, annual salary increments, foreign training, and appointment to High Court”.

In response to these claims, the JSC had noted that while the letter’s template has been in use for the past 10 years, the webinars conducted by the Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute are funded by taxpayer money and as such, attendance is monitored to ensure that public funds are not wasted. However, the JSC had noted that such an instruction as mentioned in the letter by the Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute exceeds the mandate granted to the JSC by the Constitution.

Many claims also show that the webinar had instructed judicial officers including magistrates 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 Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), in the letter to the JSC yesterday, had stated that it is deeply concerned about the contents of these reports which affect the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary, and public confidence in the administration of justice.

It requested the JSC to ensure that these reports “do not in any manner negatively impact the esteem that the Judiciary must unreservedly maintain irrespective of the circumstances, however trying they may be”.

Speaking in the Parliament, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake questioned the democratic nature and the independence of the justice system in light of these reports, and requested an explanation from Justice Minister M.U.M. Ali Sabry PC.

Sabry is due to make a statement in Parliament regarding the full response by the JSC to the Justice Ministry. Attempts to contact Sri Lanka Judges’ Institute Director Justice L.T.B. Dehideniya proved futile.