SRI LANKA: The attack on lawyers on the Defense Ministry website amounts to contempt of court 

SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2009
By Basil Fernando

(July 13, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Lawyers are officers of the court. Any attack on them in relation to their official functions . The publication of a statement against several lawyers, with photographs of three of them – naming them as traitors because they have appeared on behalf of the Sunday Leader, a well-known newspaper, in a contempt of court case against this paper – is an attack on these lawyers in relation to their official functions. Without the slightest doubt, by making this publication the authorities responsible for this publication have committed an act amounting to contempt of court.

The lawyers subjected to the attack are Srinath Perera, Upual Jayasuriya, S.Sumanthiran, Viran Corea, and Athula Ranagala.

That lawyers are officers of court, and that any attack on officers of court relating to their official duties inside court or outside is contempt of court, is well established law. The Defense Ministry publication calls these lawyers as traitors simply because in this case the other party is Defense Secretary Gottabaye Rajapakse. Some other lawyers who earlier represented the Sunday Leader have withdrawn, and these lawyers replaced them.

It is the right to of any person having a dispute before court to be represented by legal representatives of his or her choice.

All parties before courts are equals and entitled to equal protection before law. Declaring oneself a national hero does not give anyone a more important place in court proceedings than other citizens.

The right of persons to practice a profession of their choice is guaranteed in the Sri Lankan constitution. This publication also amounts to an attack on the rights of these lawyers to practice their profession within the framework of law.

It is the duty of the Attorney General to advise the government, including the Defense Ministry, on all matters relating to law. It is hoped that the Attorney General will advise the Defense Ministry about the clear legal position on these matters.

(Please see below the article which appeared in the Ministry of Defence website ?Editor).
Traitors in black coats flocked together ?

Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Leader newspaper was charged with Contempt of Court for publishing an article comparing Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was responsible for the death and destruction of over 100,000 civilians, despite extending an assurance in Court not to publish any defamatory content in reference to the Secretary Defence and the Sri Lanka Forces. The article in question was published minus a by line, which is a rarity in professional journalism.

Leader Publications (Pvt) Ltd was given time to show cause and the case was heard yesterday 9 July 2009 at the Mt. Lavinia Courts before the Additional District Judge Mohammed Macky. The original Defence team had voluntarily resigned from handling the case citing it was against their ethical and moral standing to oppose a national hero like the Secretary of Defence, with whose unwavering commitment and focus Sri Lanka is a free country today.

A new team comprising of some who have a history of appearing for and defending LTTE suspects in the past, namely Srinath Perera, Upul Jayasuriya, S. Sumanthiran, Attorney-at-Law Viran Corea, Attorney-at-Law instructed by Athula Ranagala,Attorney-at-Law appeared for Leader Publications.

It was the observation of some senior independent Lawyers who were present in court that day, that this team of Lawyers share a common anti-patriotic sentiment fired by pro UNP activism and following. One such Lawyer speaking to the media mentioned his disbelief and shock at the manner in which these Lawyers had banded together in the face of prima facie proof of Contempt of Court. As a respected senior member of the legal fraternity, he opined that the behaviour of these Lawyers was an insult to the whole profession and totally unacceptable at a time when Sri Lanka is enjoying its veritable independence after 30 long years. He went to the extent of branding these Lawyers as traitors of the nation.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-037-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,