The Lawyers’ Union of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court yesterday (18) held a protest in front of the Attorney General’s (AG) Department to protest against the AG’s Department’s preparations to submit affidavits submitted by four Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) officers, regarding Colombo Additional Magistrate Tharanga Mahawatte to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and the incident of the AG’s Department requesting the said Additional Magistrate to transfer the case pertaining to Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) Convenor Wasantha Mudalige to the Colombo Chief Magistrate.
More than 100 lawyers commenced the protest at the Hulftsdorp Courts complex, and proceeded towards the AG’s Department, carrying placards with slogans such as “Do not use bail laws for political purposes”, “Take your hands off of the Judiciary”, “Stop the improper influence of the AG on the Judiciary”, “Ensure the independence of the Judiciary”, and ‘Stop intimidating the Judiciary’.
Speaking to the media during the protest, Attorney Gunarathna Wanninayake said: “We would like to ask the Government and the AG’s Department not to get their hands on the Judiciary. We, as a lawyers’ community, will never allow the AG’s Department to transfer cases and judges as it needs. One law should be applied to all the people, be they politicians or the poor. If the AG’s Department wants to, they can go ahead with the due procedure, but we will not allow courts to be converted into regional Police stations.”
He further said: “We must also say that if the AG’s Department gets its hands on this Additional Magistrate, that will be the end of the AG’s Department. What she has done is to offer some requisites to a monk (a reference to Inter-University Bhikkhu Federation Convenor Ven. Galwewa Siridhamma Thera). The attempt to transfer the case is made on that allegation. The AG’s Department has intimidated the Additional Magistrate by showing the affidavits of the TID officers. All magistrates and judges are good judges. They do not take bribes. As such a person who administers justice, we will not allow her (Mahawatte) to be hunted. We also ask President’s Counsel (PC) and Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya to consider this impartially. We have started this fight for the independence of magistrates and judges.”
If someone has committed terrorist activities, he said that the lawyers will never oppose implementing the law against such persons, but that they will at no time allow an innocent person to be jailed without such charges.
“It was the legal community that started the struggle to send the Rajapaksas (a reference to former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, and incumbent Government MP Mahinda Rajapaksa) home, he said, adding that they, through yesterday’s protest, are giving the message that they are ready to launch such a struggle again, as the independence of the Judiciary is at risk.
Speaking to the media during the protest, Attorney Manju Sri Chandrasena said: “The AG should train the State Counsels to respect the magistrates and judges. If the AG thinks that he can do it all and that everyone should be afraid of his indictments, or that the magistrates or judges should agree with what he presents in court, it is ridiculous. It doesn’t have to be like that.
“These lawyers and all the youths who were in the people’s struggle will not be afraid of the AG’s indictments. If he acts in this way, you will have to face the same fate as that former President (addressing AG Sanjay Rajaratnam PC, with a reference to what happened to Gotabaya Rajapaksa). Therefore, if he thinks that they can send a representative and influence the court, we will not allow it at all.”
Meanwhile, “aragalaya” activist, Attorney Nuwan Bopage also claimed that Additional Magistrate Mahawatte has been subjected to criminal intimidation by Senior Deputy Solicitor General (SDSG) Dileepa Peiris who appeared before the Court on behalf of the AG’s Department on 17 January.
Commenting on the matter, Bopage, who was speaking at a media briefing, said: “What did the SDSG do in court? He said that four TID officers have submitted affidavits and that the AG’s Department was going to submit them to the JSC, but that it had not been done. What was he implying then? What he implied was, ‘if you (Additional Magistrate) do not transfer this case, we will refer the affidavits to the JSC to commence an investigation about you’. The current AG’s Department and this SDSG should be ashamed. I have not seen an AG’s Department as abject as the current one in my legal career.”
Emphasising that representatives of the AG’s Department are not special to the Court, he said that they should understand that they should represent the public and not the Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“Why is the AG representing in criminal cases; that is because he is considered as the defender of the public. What does the AG’s Department do now? Its representatives go and tell an Additional Magistrate that we are in possession of affidavits, and that if you do not transfer the case, we will forward them to the JSC. That is because it was this Additional Magistrate who asked the TID to conclude and submit the relevant investigation reports as soon as possible.”
Speaking further, Bopage said: “The Wickremesinghe-led Government has been violating the people’s rights for so long by using several agencies such as the TID and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Now, they are trying to include the AG’s Department among such agencies. Does the SDSG have any shame? He threatened the Additional Magistrate in Court in front of the lawyers. He subjected her to criminal intimidation. The Government has by now put the AG’s Department on the pile of its rogue institutions which it uses to intimidate the public. That is the reality that this incident also shows.”
While noting that the AG’s Department is an institution where there are officers with a sound knowledge of the law, he said that it is questionable as to why the AG does not express consent to grant bail to Mudalige. He further said that the officers of the TID are working as per the Government’s wishes with the hope of promotions, and added that the representatives of the AG’s Department too might be working in this manner with the same intention. However, adding that the AG and the AG’s Department officers are being paid using public money, he insisted that they should in fact work for the public.
The case against Mudalige was initially taken up before Additional Magistrate Mahawatte on Tuesday (17) and SDSG Peiris appeared for AG’s Department. Recalling that the relevant case was taken up in the Additional Magistrate’s chamber when Mudalige and Ven. Siridhamma Thera were produced before the Court on 17 and 22 November, 2022, SDSG Peiris informed the Court that four TID officers had submitted affidavits to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Chandana D. Wickramaratne regarding her statements and conduct.
He also informed the Court that following the said affidavits submitted by four TID officers including Senior Superintendent of Police Prasanna de Alwis, Assistant Superintendent of Police Wasantha Ratnayake and Chief Inspector of Police Kapila Bandara, IGP Wickramaratne has referred the same to the AG’s Department, requesting that they be referred to the JSC for a future course of action. The Additional Magistrate had then informed the AG’s Department to submit the relevant affidavits to the Court. Accordingly, SDSG Peiris, who submitted the affidavits, requested that the case be transferred to the relevant Chief Magistrate, claiming that it was not appropriate for it to be heard before the said Additional Magistrate.
The SDSG also told before the Court that the TID officers have stated that Additional Magistrate Mahawatte has given a sum of Rs. 10,000 to purchase some milk powder for Siridhamma Thera, and that she has stated that, “You all launched the struggle for all of us”.
Saliya Pieris PC, who appeared for Mudalige, expressed strong objection to that request and stated that a case should be transferred according to the relevant provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code if the AG needs to do so. Arguing that it was not appropriate for a case to be transferred without doing so, he said that the same could be considered as intimidation and an attempt to harm the independence of the Judiciary.
Additional Magistrate Mahawatte, while noting that she had given the said sum of money to Siridhamma Thera and made all the statements before the TID, also said that it was not appropriate to highlight the statements that she had not made. Accordingly, the Additional Magistrate, who considered all the facts presented, ordered that the case be taken up before the relevant Chief Magistrate.