There’s apparently no agreement among scholars on the origin of the pithy saying, “The law is an ass”, though the general consensus is that Dickens popularised it through Oliver Twist. Whoever really deserves the credit for that aphorism, one cannot think of a better metaphor to describe Sri Lanka’s legal system, which is obstinate, stupid, tardy, lazy and capable of kicking with both hind legs and even biting when the ordinary people are in trouble, seeking justice. But, surprisingly, it transmogrifies into a sturdy charger when the rich and the powerful happen to take recourse to it!
Children of the ordinary public get promptly arrested and prosecuted even for negligibly minor offences such as the theft of water pistols and loose change, but politicians who help themselves to public funds to the tune of millions of rupees and their sons who commit crimes such as assaulting military and police personnel and grabbing their weapons go scot free. When poor children join elders in mining sand in unauthorised areas, for want of a better alternative, to augment their parents’ meagre income, they are rounded up, taken to courts and separated from their families by being sent to juvenile rehabilitation centres, but politicians and their goons who commit heinous crimes such as murder, rape and arson easily get bail and continue to carry out their sordid operations and be a public nuisance!
On Saturday, the CID informed the Colombo Magistrate’s court that a case against Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Sampath Vidanapathirana (UPFA) and seven others allegedly involved in the killing of a British citizen named Khuram Shaikh and raping his girlfriend in 2011, had been transferred to Colombo from Tangalle on the Attorney General’s instructions as the suspects were threatening witnesses. The defendants have denied the allegation.
The case is now sub judice and, therefore, best left to the learned judges. But, how on earth could anyone claim that Colombo is safe for the witnesses who are threatened in Tangalle? The CID must be asked what action it has taken against the suspects to ensure the protection of the hapless witnesses. Shifting the case to Colombo cannot be considered a solution by any stretch of the imagination in that the ruling party politicians and their goon squads are capable of taking targets in any part of the country; the distance between Tangalle and Colombo is no barrier for them.
The absence of strong witness protection laws and the subservience of the police to the ruling party have stood criminals within the government ranks in good stead, and the prevailing culture of impunity has lent spurs to those anti-social elements. There are several ways in which thugs working for the government usually get away with their crimes. The police are made to hush up or botch up investigations; the witnesses are intimidated into recanting their statements or slanting evidence towards the defendants; the state prosecutor selectively withdraws cases; the judiciary is interfered with, and if all these measures fail and the criminals happen to get convicted by any chance, they are given presidential pardons.
The manner in which cases against government politicians, their family members and cronies are handled bolsters the Opposition’s argument for resurrecting the 17th Amendment to set up independent commissions for the police, the judiciary, elections, the public service etc.
The British government is justified in having expressed its deep disappointment over the tardy progress in the Khuram Shaikh case, though it needs to be asked what action it has taken against Adele Balasingham, who is comfortably living in London according to Lord Naseby in spite of her involvement in grave crimes against Sri Lankans such as massacres, blowing up civilian targets, political assassinations, recruiting child soldiers etc.
It looks as if the government were going full tilt to have the pariah status conferred on this country by giving its thugs free rein to assault, kill, maim, rape and rob people with impunity.