Judiciary: the repairing the ‘Ranjan effect’ | Daily News


Judiciary: the repairing the ‘Ranjan effect’

The judiciary is once again in the spotlight following the revelation of recorded telephone conversations between UNP Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake and certain members of the judiciary, which went viral on social media, kicking up a huge political storm. No doubt, the revelations have tarnished the image of the judiciary which is one of the pillars of Constitutional governance and democracy, the others being the Executive and Legislature and as such is expected to act with due propriety and unimpeachable integrity.

That the public confidence in the country’s judiciary has suffered a not inconsiderable dent in the wake of the episode cannot be in doubt and the sooner the public trust in the judiciary is resorted the better it will be for all concerned who value the rule of law and and judicial independence.

This is why Justice, Human Rights and Legal Reforms Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has, as a matter of urgency, spoken of putting things right and restoring the pre-eminent status enjoyed by the judiciary in order to regain the public confidence and trust in the once hallowed halls of justice.

Speaking at an event in Uva-Paranagama, the other day, Minister de Silva observed that the independence of the Judiciary alone was not enough unless it gained public trust and confidence as an impartial institution. “But when you look at the revelations made in certain audio recordings, people tend to lose confidence in the Judiciary,” he opined.

The Minister wants to correct the situation through a Constitutional amendment. “This situation can be corrected only by establishing the independence of the Judiciary and the Police Department through a Constitutional amendment”, he said.

No doubt, all stakeholders will have to be consulted on the scope of such an amendment. Members of the judiciary would not want to be placed in a Constitutional straitjacket to demonstrate their independence and transparency. In any event, the present Constitution has given pride of place to an independent judiciary as one of the pillars of democracy. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) too will need to be consulted when knocking the amendment into shape, along with the Attorney General’s department and civil society organisations and experts focusing on justice issues.

Incidentally, the BASL has written to the Chief Justice calling for a separate probe on those members of the judiciary who have been ‘exposed’ in telephone conversations surreptitiously recorded by MP Ramanayake. The film star Parliamentarian, of course, has acquired notoriety over time for casting aspersions on judges, and questioning their propriety and, that of the legal profession as a whole, for which he has been arraigned for Contempt.

While constitutionally establishing judicial independence, as per the prescription of Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, there are other avenues too that should be shut by which judicial independence could be compromised. For example, there should be no post-retirement blandishments held out by the country’s leaders to any serving member of the judiciary.

This is because there have been instances in the past where senior judges, upon retirement, were given diplomatic postings and even appointed as Governors. Ideally, Minister de Silva should include this dimension in his proposed Constitutional amendment. This, while clearing all doubts and misgivings, would reinforce the much touted transparency and independence of the judiciary.

Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the country’s justice system would bring back the public trust in the judiciary.

The administration of justice too needs a shake-up. One of the perennial problems and talked-about issues in our judicial process is the law’s delays.

“Justice delayed is justice denied” goes the much hackneyed phrase. Litigants sometimes have to wait for over two decades to receive justice. Court houses in the provinces lack basic facilities and are overcrowded.

Even though the country now has large cadre of lawyers, the administrative capacities of the judicial system has not kept pace with the increasing population. Also, there is an absolute increase in the sheer volume of litigation on an increasing range of legal fronts due to social and economic modernisation and intensified activity.

Thus, the capacity of the courts to hear cases and make rulings remains severely limited, thereby directly contributing to the laws delays.

Steps should also be taken by the Minister to restore dignity in our courts. A stop should be made of politicians and their supporters stampeding court premises and behaving in an unruly manner. Our Temples of Justice should not be made thoroughfares for the riff raff.

Members of the legal profession too should not get carried away when giving media interviews on court cases outside court premises. Some lawyers today are no different from politicians when in full flow. Such conduct, while incongruous coming from learned educated men and women, is a slur on the legal profession.

There is no gainsaying that our courts should be restored to those halcyon days when the Temple of Justice bore the inscription of truth, independence and transparency and where our eminent Justices commanded the unquestioned respect and admiration of all concerned in the legal profession and members of the public.

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