SRI LANKA: Sensible discussion on drafting code of conduct for Sri Lankan judges must include devastation of legal profession

That the practice of law is a devastated profession within the country is something all Sri Lankan lawyers will lament about. In fact, lawyers have very little impact when representing their clients, particularly in criminal and public law cases, such as fundamental rights applications. Lawyers are an integral part of justice administration; the denigration of their position indicates not only a collapse of the entire justice system, but also that the system is in no position to revive itself. For this reason, the initiative taken by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to draft a code of conduct for judges should be used as an opportunity to discuss these matters.

The current deterioration and demoralization of the legal profession is firmly linked to recent developments in the way courts are being managed by judges. Progressive judges will manage hearings and other dealings of the court in ways that allow lawyers to carry out their legitimate role in courtrooms as well as other areas of their profession. Such management implies that judges will exclude all possibilities of the intimidation of lawyers by either powerful litigants with links to underground elements, or by self interested police officers. It is essential that the judicial profession comprises of mature and balanced individuals who can show leadership and an ability to manage the laws, regulations and practices which make real adjudication possible. Otherwise, litigation becomes a mere farce.

It is often lawyers who are blamed for delays in cases being heard and other negative practices that hinder due process. However, in countries where such practices have been eliminated, the cause of elimination is the maintenance of high standards by judges without exception. The situation in these countries indicates that when judges enforce proper practices with integrity and common sense, lawyers usually comply. A failure to show leadership by judges is thus a key factor in the collapse of Sri Lanka’s judicial process.

A well functioning justice system will be supported by the people without any reservation, regardless of ethnic origin or socioeconomic status; it is in everyone’s best interests to have courts that administer justice. The loss of this support and silent public opposition to court procedures must lie with the judges.

It is time to have a sensible discussion on these matters and to resolve them.  The use of any intimidation against such discussion, including misconceived notions of contempt of court will only worsen the existing situation. The Asian Human Rights Commission hopes that the code of conduct of judges being drafted will not overlook these important issues.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-110-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,