SRI LANKA: A new book – Sri Lanka’s Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System, edited by Jasmine Joseph

(Hong Kong, October 22, 2007)

The Asian Human Rights Commission has published a new book entitled ‘Sri Lanka’s Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System.’ The book consists of four chapters, three written by Basil Fernando and another by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene. The book was edited by Jasmine Joseph of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, India, who also wrote the introduction.

“In a statement issued on the 17th October, Rajiva Wijesinha of Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat claims as blanket generalisations a recent reference in a statement by the AHRC on policing, prosecutions, the judiciary and parliamentary systems in Sri Lanka having suffered serious setbacks. Perhaps he is not aware that for the last 12 years the AHRC has been publishing regularly, extensive materials on the fate of Sri Lanka’s institutions of justice and the parliamentary system since an authoritarian system was introduced through the 1978 Constitution. Following the methodology of micro studies the AHRC has meticulously documented the situation of justice and democracy in Sri Lanka and the basis of its statements is such documentation. Most of these documents are available in print and also in websites maintained by the AHRC. This latest booklet “Sri Lanka’s Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System’ is a further addition to such documentation”, said Basil Fernando, Executive Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

The editor, Jasmine Joseph, makes the following remarks in the introduction to the book:

……the author uses the documentation generated by the Asian Human Rights Commission and its partner organization to expose the failure of rule of law and other issues related to legal system of a nation. The article is concluded by taking a position that the reform process in Sri Lanka need to return to basics, of restoring legitimacy of justice system. This article is augmenting the premise taken by Basil in his first article about the dysfunctional legal system.

In the third article, Basil Fernando narrows down attention to police reform initiatives. Interestingly, the premise taken is that reform efforts call for a discourse of fundamental issues like the nature of political system within which policing system operates. After giving a historical understanding of the past commissions, discussion moves on to the more recent, the 17th amendment to the Constitution. Within the police system, the author highlights certain areas that require special attention within a reform process.

The conditions precedent for a reform programme is given in this work. Author argues that time had passed that cosmetic changes like introduction of forensic science could save the system and reiterates that the discussions about police reform should concentrate more on the factors that contribute to making systems dysfunctional. It is said that a system that is fundamentally flawed need reconstruction not refurbishment and he suggest that this demands a culture of rights and competence.

The last article in the series is consideration about the fate of legal systems constantly exposed to adverse conditions. This search is done in the backdrop of Sri Lanka. Clues from physical world are used to draw parallels in legal realm. Basil tries to establish how constant adverse actions by the governments is capable of endangering a legal system. He makes his case by pointing out the ‘constitutional frauds’ played by the Sri Lankan Governments and the deterioration of the significance of the document. The essay is concluded by stating the interconnection between different elements in society, law and institutions and how decay in one will eventually lead to a collapse of all others.

To obtain copies of this book please contact the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-046-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,