The Executive Committee of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) has expressed its grave concern at the recent statements made by parliamentarian Premnath Dolawatte and State Minister Shehan Semasinghe referring to an ongoing case in the Supreme Court pertaining to the Local Authorities elections.
Issuing a statement today (11), the BASL said that Dolawatte’s statement on March 07 criticized the interim orders issued by the Supreme Court in Fundamental Application bearing SCFR 69/2023 alleging that the orders breach Parliamentary Privilege and casts aspersions on one of the members of the bench.
It also noted that State Minister Semasinghe in his statement on March 10 requested the Deputy Speaker to advise the relevant authorities not to proceed and take any action on the interim order given by the Supreme Court with regard to the Local Government election until the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges concludes its inquiry on the privilege issue raised by Dolawatte.
The statement further said;
"The BASL is of the view that both statements constitute an interference with the judicial process and undermine the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.
The independence of the judiciary is part of the intangible heritage of the people of Sri Lanka and all organs of the State must recognize that an independent judiciary is essential to ensure that justice be done between the citizen and the State and between citizens.
Justice Michael Kirby in his paper on “Attacks on Judges – a Universal Phenomenon” has on 5th January 1998 observed as follows: "However, recent personal and political attacks, in particular, have gone too far. They have sometimes been designed to erode the essential independence of judges, even to attempt to intimidate judges or to affect the outcome of cases and to diminish their complete neutrality and integrity."
The BASL views any attempt to interfere with the independence of the judiciary as a serious affront to the rule of law and the rights of the people of the country. Such affronts to the independence of the judiciary will compromise the ability of the court to do justice according to law, irrespective of the parties.
As was stated by Dr. H.W. Jayewardene QC, the then Emeritus President of the Bar Association, on the occasion of the farewell ceremony to Chief Justice Victor Tennekoon QC in 1977:
“The courts of this country are the constitutional shield deliberately planned and inscribed for the benefit of every human being subject to our constitution, whatever race, creed, or persuasion. No higher duty, no more solemn responsibility rests on a judge than that of translating into living law and maintaining this great guarantee of human freedom.”
In a speech to the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association annual conference in Brisbane, Australia in 2018, The Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Burnett of Maldon stated: "If we start to see more broadly a culture of non-compliance with court orders, we may see a culture of contempt for the judiciary, judicial independence and the rule of law develop. Such a culture does not just harm the judiciary. It harms society because it is incompatible with the rule of law."
In the past whenever the independence of the judiciary has been under threat whether it be from the executive arm or any other quarter, the BASL and its members throughout the island have fiercely opposed such interferences. The BASL is committed to ensure that the independence and integrity of the judiciary is protected and will take all necessary steps towards that end and will continue to do so in the interests of democracy, the rule of law and the need to protect and safeguard the constitution.
We call upon the Government to learn from the lessons of history and to refrain from undermining the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka."