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Commonwealth Lawyers Association expresses its concerns on threats to democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) is concerned by threats to democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka as the government of Sri Lanka responds to the Covid-19 crisis.

Recent developments could lead to interference in civilian parliamentary governance by the military, and to a disregard for Constitutional rules and the Rule of Law.   

The  CLA, together with other legal organisations forming the Latimer House Working Group, have produced the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the three branches of Government endorsed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government at Abuja in 2003;

– Section 3 of the Latimer House Principles states:

“Parliamentarians must be able to carry out their legislative and constitutional functions in accordance with the Constitution, free from unlawful influence.”

– Section 4 states: An independent impartial, honest and competent judiciary is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice”;

The Commonwealth Charter (adopted on 19 December 2012 and officially signed  11th March 2013) refers to the Rule of Law and states:

“We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice”.

The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary which were adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders held at Milan from 26 August to 6 September 1985 and endorsed by General Assembly resolutions 40/32 of 29 November 1985 and 40/146 of 13 December 1985 and which state:

“The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary”. 

The Commonwealth Lawyers Association issued a Statement on 9th April 2020 and said:

“In applying the Rule of Law and Human Rights a balance must be struck between the rights of people to be protected from a lethal pandemic and the rights of people not to have their liberty curtailed.  There is the right to enjoy family life: to privacy; to enjoy health treatment and education.  And on the other hand, there is the right to have the State provide protection and security.  A proper balance must be struck.

The CLA is concerned that insufficient consideration is being paid, throughout the Commonwealth, to the importance of the Rule of Law in achieving the right balance. The Executive in any parliamentary democracy must be scrutinised by Parliament. Emergency Legislation must not be used as cloak to undermine or ignore constitutional safeguards.  It certainly should not become an entrenched position which then becomes the new normal.”  

Recalling all of these principles and declarations the CLA urges the Government of Sri Lanka, when dealing with the Covid-19 emergency; 

– To direct its efforts in a way which targets the current emergency and not for any other collateral or ulterior purposes;

– To ensure that the constitutional rights of persons arrested for any offences are protected;

– To review the role of the military and intelligence services in dealing with the public health crisis;

– To take into account, in all decision making relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, the necessity of abiding by, upholding and respecting the Rule of Law;

Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA)
1st June 2020

To view the original statement in full, click here.

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