Ensuring freedom of judiciary | Daily News

Ensuring freedom of judiciary

Objections have been raised by counsel for the Attorney General’s Department appearing for the State in the D. A. Rajapaksa mausoleum case, before the High Court at Bar, over the highly militarized environment surrounding the court premises which he claimed could intimidate the witnesses.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris told court that the intimidating military presence would adversely affect the witnesses expected to testify in the matter, according to our main story on Wednesday. He went on to reveal that there were private security personnel in civvies even beside the dock of the court that would create a fear psychosis among the witnesses. This is in addition to Defender vehicles with STF personnel stationed near the main gate of the court. He prayed court for appropriate steps to ensure a fair trial for the prosecution.

Since the judges have announced that they would issue an appropriate order in this connection at the next hearing date, we refrain from commenting any further in this regard except to state that necessary steps should be taken to ensure the sanctity and decorum of our halls of justice. The entire country witnessed the indignities to which the country’s highest court and the presiding judges were subjected to during the Shirani Bandaranayake impeachment saga. The Supreme Court premises in Hulftsdorp was virtually turned into a military garrison with both lawyers and litigants locked out. The vehicles of every Supreme Court Judge was subject to a thorough search, with even their trunks opened, all in the quest to ensure outgoing Chief Justice Bandaranayake does not enter the Courts for what was to be her final sitting.

The former Defence Secretary ought to be a highly protected person for his role in defeating terrorism. There is also no argument that he needs more than the usual quota of security personnel to protect him, for this reason, although according his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the LTTE was now history. But care should be taken not to go overboard. It goes without saying that the saturation of a court premises with the intimidating presence of military personnel would not only scare away witnesses but could impact on the whole court proceedings. Where a case involving the former Defence Secretary is concerned this is doubly so considering who he is and the tales associated with him.

There is also the small matter of the former Defence Secretary being widely spoken of as a Presidential candidate at the soon to be held elections, which no doubt would raise alarm in the minds of those set to testify against him. Besides, there was brother Mahinda who not so long ago, during a rally at the Hyde Park in the immediate aftermath of his defeat, threatening even members of the judiciary who gave adverse rulings against his supporters hauled before the courts for acts of corruption, that they (judges) will be “looked after” (eyalawa api balagannawa). What then will be the plight of witnesses who are slated to testify against a Rajapaksa, any witness protection laws notwithstanding?

It goes without saying that a court of law should be a sanctuary that exudes an atmosphere where justice could be dispensed free from external influences or interference, least of all, intimidation. The massive presence of men in khaki uniform in a courthouse hardly speaks of such an atmosphere. This is doubly so given the political nature of the case at hand. In the past it is doubtful if the lord justices of the day would have permitted their hallowed sanctums to be invaded by security men of any type, whatever the justification. Those who sought to violate the sanctity of the courts through such tactics of intimidation would certainly have been in for severe censure, if not worse, as old timers would testify.

In any event what was witnessed in court on Tuesday follows a pattern. From the day the Rajapaksas were ousted from the seats of power our court premises were invaded by hooligans. One recalls how former ministers in the Rajapaksa regime facing corruption charges arriving in court accompanied by cheer-squads. There was the instance of Namal Rajapaksa, during one of his many trips to the court, addressing supporters from the top of a vehicle within the court compound. Acts of ‘heroism’ was also not in short supply, with those sentenced to remand, among the Rajapaksa acolytes, raising aloft their manacled hands to the rousing cheers of the golayas. Taking cue, for the first time in the country’s judicial history, a member of the Sangha, with close contacts to the former Defence Secretary, went so far to question the authority of the presiding judge during a court session. He is today serving a prison sentence for Contempt of Court.

Be that as it may, it is time for steps to be taken to protect and preserve the honour and dignity of our courts. The country’s judiciary came in for high praise, both locally and internationally, for the bold judgements it delivered recently, demonstrating its independence. On no account should intimidation in any form or any quarter be tolerated, designed to undermine this independence.


 

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