SRI LANKA: Two cases exposing the comic nature of criminal justice in Sri Lanka

Two inquiries into crimes reported recently reveal the absurdities of policing in Sri Lanka. One is the investigation by the Bribery Commission for an alleged act of corruption by way of undeclared assets on the part of a minister involving Rs. 450 million. The other was an allegation against a poor construction worker regarding the alleged theft of some gold items from a house.

Regarding the undeclared assets of Rs 450 million, the Officer-in-Charge of the Investigations Unit of the Bribery Commission filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court. According to this affidavit Inspector of Police Nihal Amarasiri and another Inspector K.A. Sugatha Kumari, were transferred from their positions as investigators under the Bribery and Corruption Commission in order to prevent them from further investigating the case against the minister’s undeclared assets. According to the affidavit the two inspectors were summoned by the head of the Commission itself to dissuade them from pursuing their inquiries. The minister who has been summoned to come before the commission has failed to do so on two occasions and instead the two officers have been transferred.

In the other case where the construction worker, Sarath Kumara Naidos, was arrested on the allegation that he had taken some gold items from a house, the value of the allegedly stolen goods has not even been confirmed. Mr. Naidos was brought to the Moratuwa Police Station and held from the 5th to the 13th July. From the 5th to the 12th he was severely assaulted, sometimes after being hung by the wrists while the investigating officers demanded that he return the gold he had allegedly stolen. The man’s denial of robbery, even after many days of severe assaults, did not deter the investigators. On the 13th when, due to complaints that had been made to the outside, Mr. Naidos was produced before a magistrate, the police officers also added charges, one of which was a fabricated charge of the possession of 2,300 milligrams of heroin. This was done to prevent the magistrate from granting bail to this unfortunate man.

From the point of view of the gravity of criminal offenses, the purported offense of the minister’s undeclared assets amounting to Rs. 450 million would probably outweigh the offense of the construction worker almost a million times. However, from the point of view of the treatment of the two alleged criminals, the one who is alleged to have committed the much smaller offense has been subjected to a punishment of the most severe kind at the stage of the inquiry itself, while in the other case it is the inquiring officers who have been punished. We are not for one moment suggesting that the minister should have been hung by the wrists and beaten like the construction worker but there is certainly a disparity in the manner in which the two ‘criminals’ have been treated.. All that we do wish to point out is that there something terribly strange and comical about the way inquiries into criminal offenses are being conducted in these instances.

Even in many Asian countries, like for example in Hong Kong, if the officers were conducting an inquiry into undeclared assets of any amount, leaving aside such a large amount such as Rs. 450 million, the inquiry would have been conducted mostly on documentary evidence and if there was sufficient evidence the alleged culprit would be arrested. After arrest he would be politely treated and given a chance to make a statement if he wished to. Thereafter the case would have been brought before the court. The fate of the alleged culprit would have depended entirely on the law meted out by a competent and impartial judiciary.

In the case of the construction worker the investigating officers would have checked the information before he was arrested. In such checking forensic evidence such as finger prints and other forms of evidence would have been collected. As for any direct or indirect witnesses, their statements would also have been recorded and evaluated. The alleged culprit would have had the opportunity to make a statement and then the case would be decided according to the law, again by a competent and impartial judiciary.

The way both inquiries have been conducted manifests not only a criminal justice system that has gone horribly wrong but also a political system that can only be described as pathetically flawed. If both investigations had been comic scripts this could have provided ample opportunity for amusement. However, when these situations are real there is very little to laugh about. This reminds us of a popular saying in Kerala, India which goes, ‘If a dog is mad it can be tied with a chain, but what if the chain itself goes mad?’

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-210-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,