Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera
The controversial Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill that seeks to hold a suspect in custody for 48 hours instead of the 24 hours under the normal law without being produced before a magistrate was deferred in parliament yesterday after the main opposition challenged its legality.
The Bill was made a law in 2007 as a temporary provision to enable police officers to hold suspects for a longer period in custody so as to complete investigations against them. It had to be extended with approval from parliament every two years.
When the Bill was taken up for debate in the House, Opposition United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe argued that the UPFA government had failed to seek such an extension for the implementation of the Bill in 2009 as required in terms of the law and as such the Bill had no validity today.
“In 2009, the then Deputy Justice Minister V. Puthirasigamony issued new regulations in a gazette notification. Yet, parliamentary approval was not sought. In the meantime, Parliament was dissolved in 2010.
Then, the Bill ceased to exist. Today, you cannot bring new regulations under a bill which is nonexistent,” he said.
His arguments were widely asserted by UNP MPs Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Sujeewa Senasinghe and Chief Opposition Whip John Amaratunga.
Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem, however, said though it was required to issue new regulations for every two-year period, there was no specific time period stipulated for obtaining parliamentary approval.
His arguments were countered by Mr. Rajapakse and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran. Mr. Sumanthiran said the Act lapses after two years, and therefore, it was impossible to argue that no time period was specified to seek parliamentary endorsement.
Minister Hakeen and the opposition stressed it was up to Deputy Speaker Chandimal Weerakkody who was presiding at the time to give a ruling on this issue.
Mr.Weerakkody, having listened to arguments put forward by both sides of the House said the legality of a Bill could not be raised under a point of order.
The UNP MPs including Mr. Wickremesinghe confronted the deputy speaker in this regard creating a din in the House. Mr. Jayasekara was even about to storm into the well of the House making remarks against the deputy speaker’s decision.
Eventually, the deputy speaker adjourned the House for half an hour. After the House resumed business, the House agreed to defer the Bill, and the sittings came to an abrupt end around 4.00 pm.