The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) traded barbs yesterday after the AHRC faulted the BASL for threatening legal action against those who criticized the judicial system in Sri Lanka.
The AHRC headed by Basil Fernando said lawyers and judges in Sri Lanka should hold a mirror up to themselves before threatening their critics.
In reply, the BASL reiterated their position and urged the AHRC to perhaps have a closer look at themselves in the mirror before judging others.
BASL President U.R. de Silva told Ceylon Today in response to the AHRC statement, “We invite them too to look in the mirror and see their true faces. We will see our own faces too. What is visible to us is that they are attempting to intervene in an irrelevant issue.”
He added that the BASL is one of the most respected institutions consisting 18,000 legal professionals.
“Although Judges have powers they are without a voice. For us as the BASL, we possess both the power and the voice and we need to protect the Judges. What we are trying to highlight is that any criticism made by a person has to be constructive and justified.
However, when a person has alleged that the majority of lawyers and Judges are corrupt that is a damning statement against the entire legal fraternity. That is not justified,” he added.
De Silva also said, that is the reason they had condemned the statement of Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake as it could “pave the way for the public to lose their trust and faith placed in the Judiciary.”
In its statement, the AHRC said, “While it is not our intention to defend the deputy minister, we are perturbed by such threats against anyone who is publicly airing criticisms – against any real or perceived problems relating to the Judiciary and the legal profession – as the damage done by the curtailment of such criticisms will far exceed any damage that may be done by such criticisms.
It is prudent and wise to recall the words of Lord Denning, on the issue of the use of contempt of Court for the defence of Judiciary.”
The AHRC questioned the BASL whether it was an unwarranted criticism that as the prosecutor against crime the Attorney General has failed to impartially and competently to prosecute all the crimes that are taking place in Sri Lanka.
“Is it an undue and unwarranted criticism to say that the entire system of administration of justice is beset with undue and unwarranted delays and such delays have threatened the very prevalence of the rule of law in Sri Lanka?”
None of these criticisms are new, the AHRC noted.
There are also nearly twenty (20) Communications to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), where the Committee has expressed its views stating a large number of violations of civil and political rights committed by the Government of Sri Lanka on matters such as failures to investigate serious crimes such as murder, the Attorney General interfering to stop inquiries into murder by issuing letters to the inquiring Magistrates not to proceed with such inquiries, abuse of contempt of court proceedings violating the international norms relating to such matters, undue delay in conduct of trials, dismissal of judges without following the due process, and numerous instances where torture
It is far better to look in the mirror and recognize whatever that is ugly that may have begun to emerge in ones’ own appearance.
Such honesty and frankness does no harm.
However, to hypocritically evade criticism, is to let down the legal profession, the independence of the judiciary and the freedom for the people to live without fear and suspicion, the AHRC noted.