SRI LANKA: “Police Fails to Conduct An Impartial Inquiry Into the Accident that Killed A Doctor”, Lawyer Tells The Court

The Specialist Doctor Wasantha Pushpakumara Herath died as a result of a fatal accident on the 22nd of September 2017. His car was being driven from Kandy to Colombo on the Kandy Road. A lorry which had tried to overtake another vehicle at a very high speed collided with the vehicle driven by Dr. Herath and he died as a result of this accident.

A lawyer appearing for Dr Herath’s family complained to the Gampaha Magistrate the Weeragala Police which had investigated into the accident has not reported the actual circumstances of the accident and as a result despite of this being a fatal accident, the suspect has been released on bail. The lawyer complained that the CCTV cameras of a nearby hotel has clearly recorded the incident and it could be clearly seen that the lorry driver has tried to illegally overtake another vehicle at high speed and in the course of it the lorry has collided with the car resulting in the death of the doctor. The lawyer’s complaint was that the police are not acting impartially in the conduct of the inquiry and is ignoring the most obvious evidence. The Magistrate after listening to submissions on both sides ordered the Weeragala police to conduct their inquiry impartially and to submit their reports to the Court on the basis of actually available facts.

The widow of the Doctor as well as the lady lawyer who represented aggrieved party in this case are now afraid of possible retaliation by the police due to their intervention on behalf of the deceased doctor in Court. The widow of the doctor has already complained to the lawyer that she had been threatened by the officer in charge of the Weeragala Police Station. The lady lawyer also felt that there could be possible retaliations and stated to the AHRC that she intends to complain to the Bar Association, the Inspector General of Police and other authorities.

The threats faced by lawyers who appear against the police in criminal cases are not infrequent in Sri Lanka. The AHRC has learnt that many lawyers would not even appear against the police or make any adverse comments of the manner in which the police conduct inquiries, as they wish to avoid reprisals for making such appearances. It is only a few lawyers that openly appears against the police and makes submissions before courts on the basis of their instructions on the failures of the police to conduct proper inquiries.

The Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs made several recommendations recently with a view to improve the administration of justice relating to criminal cases. In finding ways to improve the criminal justice In Sri Lanka, it is also essential to address the issue of intimidation faced by the witnesses and the lawyers who appear on behalf of aggrieved parties and particularly the situation of lawyers wo have to make representations on the defects of the investigations conducted by the police. Any serious inquiry can be subverted due to various reasons of which the most prominent reason is that of corruption. Under these circumstances the serious note should be taken on this issue so as to enable the surviving victims and the lawyers to play their role at the court hearings.