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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Sri Lanka: Paying wards in prisons while denying justice to drug related detainees

I wish to flag just two issues, one is with regard to the amendment to Poisons, Opium and dangerous drug amendment .

There is a concern that the bail application has to now be made through the Court of Appeal instead of High Court. Now this is a very serious issue, this is not a question of making bail stringent. This is a question of access to Justice. I am saying that because Court of Appeal sits only in Colombo, whereas now with the provincial High Courts you can go to your provincial capital. In lots of instances High Court sit in more than one city or town in a province, and you can make an application.

Now this is very important , this is not a question of being lenient towards a possession of dangerous drugs, this is about anybody who is accused of this offence being able to go to court. Access to justice must not be denied. We know of incidence where people are framed or various dissects takes place. So they must be able to approach court. And that
must never be made difficult. It is only after the 13th amendment to the constitution, that first appeal even from a District Court matter can be made to the Court in the province. Before that even if the District Judge made a small mistake in the course of proceedings, you have to come to Colombo and make an application. So devolution – we talk about executive powers and legislative powers but with regard to the Judiciary a salutary feature came in, when people can access to a justice at lease in the first appeal.

So I appeal to the minister not to remove the jurisdictions to grant bail in this way to one central place in the whole country. Because that is denial of Justice to people and also it is against the devolution.

The 2nd matter that I wish to flag was with regard to your proposed Prison ordinance rules.

This is totally out of order, several rights which the prisoners have enjoyed over 100 years are being taken away, and another novel concept is ought to be brought is, If there is a concept that is against the incarceration of people, then I will support it. I think incarceration dehumanise people there can be exceptions to violent criminals etc. but, ordinarily as a punishment to incarcerate people I think it is very regressive and that whole thing must change. But here no change in that, punishment is said to be incarceration but, there are categories, categories of prisoners, and what are the categories?

Categories are those who can pay; you are creating paying wards, I heard Hon. Dilan Perera say this also, we can’t escape wondering whether some in the Government ranks are preparing places for them in the prison. They know that they are going to stay a lot of time in the Prison, so they are creating luxurious apartments in prisons already so that when they go there they can live in comfort.

It looks like that. So this goes against the fundamental principal that all citizens and particularly citizen under the care, who are under the control of the state and when you meet out a punishment that all of them must be treated equally. The conditions in the prisons are bad, so the answer is not to elevate those hardships for the few who can part with some money.

That is wrong- that is fundamentally wrong and no country should ever do that, and therefore I bring it to the Hon. Minister’s notice that those ordinances where it came creates differences in class of prisoners must be abolished.

(Excerpts from Hon. M.A. Sumanthiran’s Speech in Parliament on 10th November 2022.)

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