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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

I did my job, but this is the first time I have received death threats: Judge Deepali

 Chandani Kirinde
Deepali Wijesundara, President of the Colombo High Court Trial-at-Bar that convicted former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka to three years imprisonment in the “white flag” case spoke to the Sunday Times on the threats she faced during the trial , after the judgment and other matters.


You have spoken of threats to your life due to the “white flag” case?
Please elaborate.

When the case was going on I received threats and I informed the police and they gave me additional security. Earlier I was given security by the Judicial Security Division (JSD) of the Police and this was enhanced because of the threats. However after the judgment the threats got worse. Once I pronounced the sentence, I had to disconnect my telephone at home and even the land line telephone in my office. I only answer the mobile phone if I know the number of the person calling. When I don’t answer the phone in the office, they telephone the Registrar and relay the threats to him, to be passed onto me. I also get threatening anonymous letters which I throw into the waste paper bin. I don’t read them, except for one or two to see what they said.

One letter said if you don’t release so and so you will be ‘bumped off’. After the judgment the threats were directed at my daughter. They said if we can’t get you, we will get your daughter.

The ‘white flag’ case is just another case for me. I have given so many judgments and this is the third Trial-at- Bar I have presided over but I have never received death threats before. There were so many sensitive cases before me but this has never happened before.

Take the Angulana (murder) case, all four accused were police officers but I didn’t receive a single death threat, not a single phone call, not a single letter. Your editor Sinha Ratnatunga was convicted too but did anyone behave like that? He went ahead and appealed. It’s the same in the Tissainayagam case.

This is just another case for me but it was big thing for them. The people involved in these threats are perverts that’s all I have to say. They have even made many remarks about me over websites. I don’t go to these sites but people tell me what has been posted. I have told them not to tell me because I know they are lies. . These stories are being spread because they are angry over this judgment.

There is a perception that you were biased in this case.

How can they say I am biased when I acquitted him on two of the charges. There were three charges against him and I convicted him only on one count. The maximum sentences were five years but he was given only three years. So how can they say I was biased? As the most senior High Court Judge I had to hear the case.

The procedure is that the most senior HC judge is appointed as the President. There are so many cases filed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that are heard in my court which is why I had security cameras fixed in my courthouse. It was done long before this case was fixed for trial. It’s my job. I did my duty.

You have spoken about the behaviour of the lawyers after the judgment was delivered. Your comments?

If people are not satisfied with the judgment they can appeal but what did we have? The way they behaved here, especially the lawyers! Many of the lawyers present that day were not the usual HC lawyers. I think they came from outside I didn’t know them at all. I feel sad when I see them behave this way because this is called a noble profession. So when lawyers behave like hooligans it makes me feel sad. It was only a handful of lawyers who behaved this way. I know Mr. (Nalin) Laduwahetty.

He is a decent lawyer. He will never behave in this manner. I see this sort of behaviour as a veiled threat against all judges. It is bad for the entire profession. It is like saying if you go against a character like this you will be treated like this. They are threatening the entire judiciary by behaving like this.

Before judgment day, given the fact this was a high profile case, trouble was expected. Are you satisfied with the security provided by the police?

The security did a good job given the type of behaviour that we saw. Not only the HC judges, but the judges of the Court of Appeal (CA) and the Supreme Court saw what happened, from the balcony of the Superior Court complex.

Have you taken up the behaviour of the lawyers with the Bar Association?

The Bar Association should first condemn this kind of behaviour. They should control their members.
n There is some controversy as to why the judgment and the dissenting judgment were not read out in court as this is the usual procedure.

Because of the crowd outside all three of us agreed in my Chambers that morning that we would not read out the judgments. We don’t always read out judgments because they are usually very lengthy and it takes a lot of time and with such a big crowd waiting , you can’t read out a judgment for one to one and a half hours. So we agreed that we would not read it out. Even Mr.Warawewa agreed.

We agreed we would say Mr. Warawewa was acquitting the accused on all three counts and we were acquitting him on two counts and convicting him on one of the charges. It is after we reached an agreement that we proceeded to the Bench. We told Mr.Warawewa if he wanted to say something he could. He had ample time to speak. Because of the crowd and the shouting outside it was difficult to do so.

Was there no move to prevent him from speaking?

No, but we just wanted to end it all and get off as soon as possible.

Judge Warawewa has spoken of threats to his life. Were you aware of them?

He never informed me of any threats. He didn’t inform anyone of us. I am the most senior HC judge and I am the President of the HC Judges Association but he did not inform me. While the case was going on he did not receive any threats.

After the judgment?

I did not even see him after that.

There are reports that you are a personal friend of the President. Isn’t close links between members of the judiciary and politicians viewed with suspicion?

The President is a lawyer. I think most of us know him because he is a lawyer. He is known to all of us not only me. People can make allegations but they can’t prove anything.

What about reports that Judge Warawewa’s computer was tampered with the night before the day of the judgment?

That morning he said his computer had got stuck. Our computers get stuck from time to time and we have a computer maintenance room. I believe it was restored within minutes. He said it got stuck when he was trying to switch it on.

No one can come into our Chambers because we have the keys to our Chamber. When we leave, we lock them and take the keys with us. There is no question of anyone entering our rooms and tampering with the computers.

Has the judgment led to a falling out between you and Judge Warawewa?


DSG clarifies

Deputy Solicitor General Buveneka Aluvihara has brought to our attention that while our news report published last week on the “White flag” case referred to him asking the Trial-at-Bar that the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka be given a five year prison term after he was found guilty on a split decision on one count, that he had only drawn the attention of the Court to the provision in the law pertaining to the punishment for that count. He says that he did not press for a five year jail-term and left it to the Judges to fix the sentencing.

Judge Warawewa overseas

The Sunday Times made several attempts to contact High Court Judge W. T. M. P. B. Warawewa who acquitted former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka on all charges in the “white flag” case to obtain his views regarding the situation that arose after the verdict was handed down as well as reports of threats to his life due to his dissenting judgment in the case.

However, we were informed that Judge Warawewa was on overseas leave for 14 days.


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