SRI LANKA: NPC’s Power of Disciplinary Control over Officers below the Rank of Inspector

In the Sunday Leader of July 17 under the caption ‘Police Commission Blame IGP for Inaction’ by Shenan Moses, there appear several comments relating to the Constitutional powers of the National Police Commission made by the NPC Chairman Ranjith Abeysuriya.  Mr. Abeysuriya has been quoted as saying that “acts of torture are carried out by officers below the rank of inspector and that the Commission has no provision to take action below this rank.”

This statement is quite in conflict with Article 155G(1)(a) of the Sri Lankan Constitution as amended, which vests disciplinary control of police officers other than the Inspector General of Police (IGP) with the NPC. The Article further states that such power will be exercised in consultation with the IGP. To claim that the NPC has no provision to take action against officers below the rank of inspector thus goes against Constitutional provisions which give power over all police officers except the IGP to the Commission.

In fact, in terms of disciplinary control the Constitution has been even more specific in stating in section 155G (2) that “The Commission shall establish procedures to entertain and investigate public complaints and complaints of any aggrieved person made against a police officer or the police service, and provide redress in accordance with the provisions of any law enacted by Parliament for such purpose.”

It is clear that the statement made by the NPC Chairman has no basis in law at all.  In fact the NPC is well aware of its obligations under 155G (1)(a) and 155G (2) of the Constitution; two lawyers, Dr. Jayantha Almeida Guneratna and Ms. Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena, working in collaboration with the Asian Human Rights Commission, submitted a Draft Complaint Procedure under 155G(2) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka to the Commission last year.

The disciplinary control of the police is, as envisaged by the Constitution, a far more important matter than even appointment, promotion and transfer of police officers.  This is particularly so given the history of the country in the last few decades. It is an incontrovertible fact, the understanding of which is reflected in the NPC Chairman’s speeches during the last year. It is a fundamental obligation of the NPC to ensure full control of the discipline within the police service. If the Chairman of the Commission claims there is no legal provision granting the Commission power over the lower ranks of the police, this is a clear misunderstanding of the law as enshrined in the 17thAmendment.  However, if the Commission itself has handed back this power to the IGP then this is a completely different matter.  If the Commission has done so this is a decision which is fundamentally flawed.  However, what seems to be the actual case is that the NPC has not seriously taken any practical steps to use the power it has for the disciplinary control of the police.  Its time has been mainly spent on matters relating to appointments, promotions and transfers.

It is suggested that the NPC face up to its Constitutional responsibility to exercise direct disciplinary control over all officers.  The major problem with the Sri Lankan police is the breakdown of discipline. Nothing can save the institution until this very serious problem is adequately addressed.  There is no Constitutional authority other than the NPC that can address this important task. To abdicate from this role is an act of colossal neglect particularly at a time when the country is faced with very serious problems of social instability and increase of crime.  Discipline, particularly within the lower ranks of the police is an essential condition for proper criminal investigations directed towards the deterrence of crime. If the NPC neglects to take its proper responsibility for the disciplinary control of such officers, the fight against crime has very little possibility of success.

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About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-21-2004
Countries : Sri Lanka,