SRI LANKA: Gerald Perera’s murder trial may not begin for another 5-7 years

While the murder case of Judge Ambepitiya–who was killed two days before Gerald Perera was shot–is already fixed for trial at bar, it may take 5-7 years–or even more–before Gerald’s case is even begun to be heard at the high court. Despite Gerald being a witness waiting to give evidence in a criminal case when the accused in the case allegedly murdered him, and despite the enormous social concern expressed at this case, it is being treated as a routine case of murder. What this means, is that a further year or more will be taken at the Magistrate’s Court for the non-summary inquiry to be completed, then 2-3 years will be spent at the Attorney General’s department before the indictment is filed, after which a further 2-4 years will be required for the case to be finally taken for trial. Add to that 2-5 more years for the hearing of appeals, and the alleged perpetrators have at least ten years to enjoy their liberty.

In a recent speech, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Solicitor General stated that in 85 per cent of the cases, the accused escape liability because they are able to frighten witnesses into not turning up in court. Although the alleged perpetrators may not have this possibility in Judge Ambepitiya’s case due to the short length of the trial itself, as well as the short time lapse between the murder and the trial, the perpetrators in Gerald Perera’s case will have around seven years to harass the witnesses, if they so wish. In fact, the alleged motive for killing Gerald was to prevent him from giving evidence in court; the perpetrators have already taken action to eliminate witnesses. Furthermore, Gerald’s widow has even stated in court her fear of repercussions if the alleged perpetrators are at liberty. All of them, except for the alleged assassin, are police officers who have held various positions in and around the area where the alleged torture and killing of Gerald took place. They thus have many connections in the area. 

In general, such delays in the hearing of court cases trivialize the fight against murder and crime in general. The Criminal Investigation Division has shown tremendous capacity and dedication in carrying out successful investigations within a relatively short time in this case, as in the case of Judge Ambepitiya. However, these efforts are trivialized by the failure to proceed with the trial in an efficient manner.

Article 14 (3) (c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) obligates all state parties to ensure speedy trials in all criminal cases. The Sri Lankan government is a signatory to the ICCPR as well as to its Optional Protocol. A delay of 5-7 years in the hearing of a serious murder case is a clear violation of the ICCPR’s provisions.

The spokespersons for the government and the judiciary often condemn the four percent conviction rate in the country, as well as the fact that 85 per cent of the witnesses fail the prosecution by fearing the perpetrators. However, the government and the agencies that deal with the prosecution, such as the Attorney General’s department and the judiciary, themselves bear the responsibility for this situation, particularly in their failure to guarantee speedy trials. If delays in the hearing of cases can be manipulated to the benefit of the alleged perpetrators, more than rhetoric is needed to stop such abuse and obtain justice.

Gerald Perera’s murder evoked local and international outrage. It also brought enormous pressure on the government to ensure a speedy investigation and apprehension of the alleged perpetrators. It is now necessary to generate similar pressure to ensure a speedy trial in the case. There is no reason not to follow the example of Judge Ambepitiya’s prosecution–according to Sri Lankan law, an application to that effect must be made by the Attorney General to the Chief Justice to hold the case before a trial at bar. The decision whether Gerald Perera’s hearing is delayed for many years or is heard speedily now lies in the hands of the Attorney General. The local and international community must intervene to persuade the Attorney General to ensure a speedy trial in this case.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-24-2005
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Torture,