In a confidential letter to the President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa, and to the Sri Lankan authorities, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expressed grave concern about recent threats to the independence of the judiciary and called for the rule of law to be adhered to, and promoted, in Sri Lanka.
The letter follows disturbing reports of a physical attack on the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Manjula Tilakaratne, on 7 October 2012 at a time of reported heightened tension between the JSC – an independent body made up members of the judiciary that deal with all judicial promotions and appointments – and the Sri Lankan Government. The attack is widely perceived as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary and interfere with the independence of the profession.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Co-Chair of the IBAHRI said: ‘We consider the recently reported attack on the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission in Sri Lanka to be extremely serious, requiring prompt and proper investigation by the appropriate authorities.’
Elaborating, Baroness Kennedy QC added, ‘An independent judiciary functions as a critical institutional mechanism providing a check and balance on the executive and legislative branches of a democratic society. The independence of this organ is vital, not only to ensure that the judiciary is able to discharge its functions without fear or favour, but also to uphold public confidence in the legal system as a whole and the due administration of justice.’
The attack on Mr Tilakaratne was preceded by reports that Government Minister, Rishad Badiudeen, directly interfered with the professional duties of, and made threats against, Magistrate Honourable A Judeson, of the Magistrate Court in Mannar, in relation to a specific case. On 17 July 2012, the premises of the Magistrate Court complex in Mannar District were attacked by an angry crowd. Reports further indicate that the Minister met with the Secretary General of the JSC in an attempt to secure the transfer of Magistrate Judeson.
Sternford Moyo Co-Chair of the IBAHRI said, ‘We appeal to the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent the harassment and intimidation of judges and magistrates in accordance with Article 111 of the Constitution of Sri Lankawhichprovides that judges will be protected in the exercise of their judicial powers and functions’ He added,
‘The need to develop and preserve an independent judiciary free from political influence and with adequate guarantees to maintain its impartiality is of prime importance to the protection of the rule of law. As a member state of the United Nations Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Basic principles on the Independence of the Judiciary which states that “the independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State” and that “it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”’
In 2009, an IBAHRI delegation visited Sri Lanka and published its findings in the report, Justice in Retreat: A Report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. The Report concluded that there has been a significant deterioration in the rule of law and public confidence in it, which has contributed to the development of the perception of institutional impunity within the Sri Lankan legal system. The Report also expresses serious concern over judicial independence and an escalating climate of fear amongst the legal profession, in particular amongst those lawyers filing fundamental rights applications, representing terrorist suspects and taking anti-corruption cases.
A copy of the reported and associated IBAHRI statements concerning Sri Lanka can be accessed via the IBAHRI web pages: www.ibanet.org/Human_Rights_Institute/Work_by_regions/Asia_Pacific/Sri_Lanka.aspx