SRI LANKA: The role to be played by Sri Lankan courts in eliminating widespread social demoralisation

The way that justice is administered by the courts in any country directly affects the national spirit. Whether or not the spirit of enthusiasm, energy and cooperation prevails in a particular society depends, among other factors, on the role played by the courts. In fact, it can be said that courts are among the most important institutions that contribute to positive thinking among the people. 

It would be senseless to deny that the Sri Lankan courts have contributed to the country’s demoralised state. Whether the courts made this contribution deliberately or not is irrelevant, as is the role played by this person or that. What is of relevance is the collective effect of the courts on the national psyche.

A key factor that is overlooked in such discussions on the administration of justice is that it is through the courts that people struggle against intimidation and violence. As societies shed their feudal and colonial pasts, it is essential that they develop mechanisms to prevent and protect against the entrenched practices of violence and repression. It is not important what the previous practices were, but what new mechanisms are put in place to build a society based on principles of human rights and democracy. Functioning courts and an effective judicial system are important such mechanisms. 

It must be queried as to why Sri Lanka was unable to develop these mechanisms to a level where they could successfully eliminate the deeply rooted practices of intimidation within society. Were there even any attempts to do so? Or was the administration of justice thought about in only a theoretical sense, with little understanding of the contributions to be made to the development of a modern society by the courts?  Perhaps some reflections on these areas might be useful at this time, when everyone laments not only the collapse of law and order, but also the justice system.

It can be said that there was hardly any intellectual tradition that grew around the issue of the administration of justice in the country, except to pursue a borrowed tradition introduced by the British Colonial Office. Even until quite recently it was thought that there was such a model called with the Westminster Model, introduced into the country during the British times, and that this model is being continued. It was a British constitutional expert that pointed out that the so-called Westminster model was in fact a White Hall model created by the British Colonial Office.

Local discussion on local problems and the establishment of effective mechanisms to overcome various forms of repression and intimidation are essential to the development of local court systems able to meet the demands of a modern nation. The absence of such discussion has led the Sri Lankan courts to their present state, where in the midst of significant social changes they have lost their capacity to contribute positively to the development of a healthy society.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has recently proposed to draft a code of conduct for judges. In making this proposal it has both an opportunity and an obligation to make the judiciary once more an institution capable of inculcating a belief in cooperation among the citizens. Dramatic changes in the day-to-day practice of the courts must be indispensable to the renewal of positive thinking in Sri Lankan society.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-112-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Judicial system,