SRI LANKA: The government treats the law as the enemy 

Within this week alone there were three events directed against the lawyers who are opposing the impeachment of the Chief Justice. These were: the attempted attack on the lawyer, Gunaratne Wanninayaka, the President of Colombo Magistrate’s Court Lawyer’s Association and the Convener of People’s March; the shooting incident near the residence of the President of the Bar Association and Member of Parliament, Wijedasa Rajapaksa and the withdrawal of the security at the house of parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran who was among the most active lawyers working against the Impeachment.

All this has taken place when the local and international community has focused their attention on a single issue of demanding a fair enquiry by a competent and credible tribunal regarding the allegations against the Chief Justice. The government is in no position to answer the criticism brought against it of attempting the removal of the country’s Chief Justice without a fair inquiry.

The government’s problem is that it will have to take a step backwards from one of its highly advertised aims of removing the Chief Justice immediately if it were to do the right thing by way of providing for a credible inquiry. To admit that the Parliamentary Select Committee is not an acceptable avenue for such an inquiry and to admit that, anyway, the manner in which the PSC conducted the inquiry was shockingly unfair by any standards, seems to be something that the government finds hard to stomach.

The problem is that the government cannot be sure that a fair and impartial tribunal may arrive at the conclusions it wants. Indeed, such a tribunal may even come out with findings which may be adverse to the government. It may even reveal things that the government might not wish to have exposed, such as skeletons in its cupboard.

Faced with this situation the government appears to be falling back on the method that several governments in recent times have resorted to, that is to intimidate their opponents. Manufacturing chaos by acts of violence done by unidentified persons is one of the well-tested methods used in Sri Lanka quite successfully in recent times. In every case those who do such acts of violence are hidden and well protected and the government can always deny that it has anything to do with such acts of violence. On the other hand the would-be victims of such violence and the society as a whole can be intimidated by such acts.

There are well-trained cadres to carry out such actions. The Ministry of Defence has within itself total control of the methodologies by which society can be terrorised at any time. There are the paramilitary forces and the intelligence services and these are well provided with vehicles, communication technologies and personnel to carry out these operations.

While the lawyers and the Chief Justice herself have resorted to the courts as the ultimate resort on matters of law the government is boycotting the courts under various pretexts such as parliamentary privilege. Even one of the most primary notions of a society based on the rule of law and constitutionalism that the ultimate authority in the interpretation of the law is the courts is also ignored by the government.

It is starkly clear that it is the law itself that the government considers as the enemy. The Chief Justice is perceived as the enemy, not for any ethical reason as it is pretended, but the fact that she has interpreted the Constitution in a manner that is adverse to the government. The government wants judges who will interpret the Constitution in favour of the government. The heart of the conflict between the Chief Justice and the government at the moment is the law itself.

The senior lawyer, S.L. Gunasekara in his letter to the executive committee of the Bar Association clearly pointed out the attempt by the government to create what he calls, a ‘stooge judiciary’ as against an independent judiciary. The difference in the two is that while an independent judiciary treats the law as supreme a stooge judiciary treats the government as supreme.

Many commentators for and against the impeachment who are discussing acts which are ethical or otherwise, allegedly committed by the CJ, are missing the heart of the matter at the moment. That is the future of the law in Sri Lanka. What the government wants is a judiciary that will not oppose the proposed acts of the government on the basis of such actions being illegal. Legality and illegality is being made into a matter that is irrelevant.

The acts of violence that are taking place now are a reminder that all these concerns for the law will not be treated as friendly acts by the government. What the government demands is loyalty to itself, not loyalty to the law.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-149-2012
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system,