“I am expected to take my oaths next year, but now I have to rethink whether an attorney could work according to his or her conscience and seek justice for the aggrieved party giving the extreme political pressures the judicial process is subjected to in this country. There has to be a serious rethink about it.”
The above statement from young Hirunika Premachandra reflects the sheer hopelessness of lawyers today in the face of a criminal justice system which has lost its credibility. It is not only young lawyers contemplating entering the profession that feel the same way. Most professionals, particularly those who were practicing in the areas of public or criminal law also feel the same way. Many of them may not air their views as publically as she does but they make their voices quite loudly aired in private conversations.
The crisis of the criminal justice system is not a new one. The slow degeneration of the system begins in the manner in which the police and the military were used to suppress the JVP uprising of 1971 where 5,000 – 10,000 persons were killed and most of the killings happened after their arrest. That approach has continued to-date.
What has happened is not mere political pressure exercised on the judicial process but in fact, making the law itself irrelevant in the actions of ‘the law enforcement agencies’. The agencies, such as the criminal investigation division which enjoyed a reputation for competence and independence, have now been reduced to a political agency. The change from law enforcement within the parameters of the law and legal procedures into politically directed work which engages in witch hunts against the opponents of the governments on the one hand and the protection of those who are loyal to the government on the other is quite visible and n secret to anyone anymore.
Investigations into crime are the first step in the judicial process relating to the prosecution of crimes. When the investigators are politically directed and motivated the whole process loses its legal character. It becomes a political persecution. This is what has happened to the country’s most important agency that was created for the purpose of investigating crimes which were considered most serious.
When the judicial process is interfered with at the very start of the investigations hardly any justice can be expected. In fact, it becomes a highly sophisticated and well organised injustice. Today, criminal justice in Sri Lanka has turned out to be organised injustice.
What role does a lawyer have within this setup? The lawyer’s role is essentially to safeguard the legal rights of his or her client. When the parties to a case no longer have legal rights and when they are victims of a scheme which does not tolerate any kind of opposition then the lawyer loses any kind of legitimate role. The lawyer is expected to play a monkey role when the justice process has become a faÃ§ade. Naturally, no self-respecting professional wants to play that monkey role. Of course, always there are some who will play any role with base expectations.
It is no wonder that a young girl exposed to face crass manipulations by the most powerful elements in a case which involves the assassination of her own beloved father has soon discovered the scheme of injustice that has become a normal affair now. In fact, every average person in society knows the decadence that has entered into what was once called the criminal justice process.
The only option left to any intelligent person is to fight back against this whole process, not only in cases where one has a personal interest, but against the entire scheme itself. If one has any concern for justice this is the only path that is left now in Sri Lanka.
In a famous drama shown throughout the country in the nineties, entitled Magatha, produced by Asoka Handagama, there is stark exposure relating to the problems of justice facing the contemporary Sri Lankan society. In that drama there is the character of a young woman who symbolises the rebellious call against injustice. Perhaps the young people like Hirunika and others are called upon to play that role in they are to make any meaning of the learning of the law that they have been engaged in.