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PARLIAMENT

To minimise law’s delays

Time frames required for duration of cases - Marapana

The law’s delays is a serious issue in the country and in order to reduce prison congestion and complete these cases in a short period, time frames must be imposed for investigations to be completed and charges filed in the shortest possible time, said Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana.

Joining the Committee Stage of the budget debate in Parliament yesterday he said, “A suspect generally has to spend about a year in remand custody and after around 20 visits to courts and having spent huge sums on lawyers’ charges are eventually filed only after around three years.

“Then for the case to be taken before a lower court and completed, it takes another five years. By this time, from the time the case commenced, around eight years has passed. If he appeals the case, then it takes a further seven years. Nowhere else in this world do court cases drag on for this long,” he said.

“This is a serious issue, he said, adding that the main reason is that even for minor offences, suspects are produced in court and remanded for around six months,” he said.

“They don’t file charges and claim to be conducting investigations for years and eventually charges are filed only after around two years. Then if it is forwarded to the AG’s Department it takes around another five years. Hence, the whole judicial system has come under ridicule over such issues,” Minister Marapana said.

Marapana suggested as a solution to this issue to impose certain time frames on the duration of the cases. “For instance, within a year of the crime being committed the investigations must be completed and charges filed. If not the case should be thrown out,” he said.

He said that earlier every court production is sent to the Government Analyst for clarification. Hence, there must be some short mechanisms implemented in order to cut short the time taken to complete such cases.

“For instance, if the Police cannot complete the investigations and file charges within a year, then the case should be dismissed. “Then even the Police would take steps to expedite the investigations and file the charges early. I don’t think there are very complicated cases in Sri Lanka. Most of them are just minor cases which is a waste of time and money. The only solution is to set time frames for court cases.”

Emphasising the overcrowding at prisons, he said although over time, many regulations had been introduced, nothing had proved productive. Then the Bail Act was introduced to make bail easier. But, when implementing it the opposite happens.

“The moment a suspect is produced before a magistrate, his lawyers have to make a huge effort to convince the judge to grant him bail. Today, suspects are remanded as a punishment and not based on the seriousness of the offence. Hence, we should change these attitudes first. I feel a set of guidelines should be issued to lower courts (practice direction) in order to reduce the congestion in prisons,” added Minister Marapana.

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Independent judiciary restored in the country - Thalatha

The discussion on breaking the country’s 42 year-old moratorium on the death penalty was due to the irregularities in the prisons, Justice and Prison Reforms Minister Thalatha Athukorala said.

Speaking at the Committee Stage Debate of the ‘Budget 2019’ in Parliament yesterday when the Expenditure Heads of her ministry were taken up, the minister said President Maithripala Sirisena proposed to implement the death penalty on convicted drug peddlers, who continue the same offense from within prisons.

She also said the irregularities in prisons and incidents in the prisons during the period of the political coup in October last year led to the removal of former the Prisons Commissioner General.

Responding to complaints by the TNA MPs on prisoners detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the minister said it was wrong to claim that legal action had not yet been initiated against them.

“Cases have already been filed against 54 of them. The files related to another three have been sent to the Attorney General. We cannot initiate legal action against another six because Police investigations related to them have not yet been completed,” she responded.

Rejoicing the fact that a free and independent judiciary has been restored in the country, she noted that this was proven during the political coup in October last year. She said the ‘law’ would be added to the school curriculum as a separate subject in the near future.

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Rs.3 bn allocated to modernise Met.Dept

An allocation of Rs 3 billion has been made to modernise the Meteorology Department this year, Public Administration and Disaster Management Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

Speaking at the Committee Stage Debate of the ‘Budget 2019’ in Parliament yesterday when the Expenditure Heads of his ministry were taken up, the minister said the capacity of the Met Department to make more accurate weather forecasts would increase with its planned modernization programme.

He said two dollar radar machines would be installed in Puttalam and Pothuvil at a cost of Rs.4,600 million with the financial aid from JAICA.

He said an investigation is being conducted for the purchase of a Doppler radar machine in 2011 spending about Rs. 400 million. The machine became non-operational owing to the delay of installation. The minister said it has now been communicated that repairing the Doppler radar would cost as same as buying a new machine.

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Country earned Rs.123,800 mn income from milk powder imports in 18 years - Harrison

The country has earned an income of Rs.123,800 million through importing milk powder during the period 2000 to 2018, Agriculture and Livestock Minister P.Harrison said in Parliament yesterday.

Joining the Committee Stage debate in Parliament yesterday the minister said this in response to the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Dr. Bandula Gunawardena.

Speaking further, the Minister said that 1.33 million tonnes of milk powder worth US$ 3.9 million had been imported to Sri Lanka over the last 18 years.

The UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara then asked Harrison whether the local dairy industry has been affected due to the recent claim that milk powder consumption is harmful to humans.

In response, Harrison replied, “There is no truth to that. Only a handful of companies are engaged in the dairy industry. The local dairy industry has not been affected as suggested in these claims. People buy local dairy products more due to the alleged issues in imported milk powder.”

Furthermore, the Minister further noted that samples of imported milk powder had been sent for testing to the local and international institutions.

“The report on these tests will be submitted to Parliament upon receiving the results”, he added.

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Opposition should defeat Govt. at any given opportunity - Anura Yapa

It is the duty of the Opposition to defeat the government and in the event an opportunity is presented to them to do so, they would not hesitate to take advantage of such opportunities, said United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Anura Priyadarshana Yapa in Parliament yesterday.

He said this during the Committee Stage debate in response to government MPs alleging that despite an agreement being reached, the Opposition gone back on their word by calling for a vote. “The Opposition would not hesitate to defeat the Expenditure Heads of any Ministry again if they get the opportunity.”

Yapa made this remark when an argument erupted between the Government and the Opposition regarding the unexpected defeat of expenditure heads for two Ministries during the Committee Stage of the Appropriation Bill 2019 on March 28.

UPFA MP Bandula Gunawardena referring to statements made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Internal and Home Affairs and Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Vajira Abeywardena that the government faces difficulty in paying salaries of public servants due to the said Expenditure Heads being defeated, observed that Parliament has already approved a Vote on Account for the first quarter of the year.

“Therefore, I do not think that the government would face any difficulty to pay salaries of public servants. Not only that, the Treasury also has an account reserved for urgent requirements of money. So, do not blame the Opposition for any consequences of the defeat of those Expenditure Heads,” he said.

In response, Leader of the House Minister Lakshman Kiriella blamed the Opposition saying that they are backstabbers as they failed to adhere to the agreement taken during the Party Leaders’ Meeting that no one would call a Division for any Expenditure Head.

“If you give your word on something, you must keep to that word. But you did not do that. You should have respected the decision taken at the Party Leaders meeting,” Kiriella said.

UNP MP Chaminda Wijesiri joined in the debate by adding, “The Opposition should take full responsibility for any consequence that arises as a result of defeating the Expenditure Heads.”

Dr.Jayatissa said, that the Party Leaders had in fact, not taken any decision to not call for a Division for Expenditure Heads.

“The Party Leaders had agreed to call for Divisions at the end of the each Sitting and not to seek the quorum during the Sittings. They never agreed not to call for Divisions as Kiriella said. I would like to know from Kiriella as to when Party Leaders took the decision that he claims they did,” he questioned.

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AG should be independent

Jayampathy urges AG not to dismiss case on technical grounds

There is a dire need to bring in new laws to make the AG’s Department an independent institution. It is not easy to make Constitutional changes but certain rules could be changed. It is the President who suggests the names for the post of AG and generally the AG is bound to represent the President in any case. Then invariably there is a suspicion regarding the independence of the AG, said MP Jayampathy Wickramaratne.

Joining the committee stage budget debate in parliament yesterday when the expenditure heads of the Ministry of Justice & Prison Reforms and the Ministry of Public Administration and Disaster Management was taken up, Jayampathy suggested that even though the President could suggest names for the Supreme Court or the Appeal Court but the selection process should be taken out of the President’s hands. He said the advice of the Justice Minister, Chief Justice or the senior lawyers of the Bar Association and the AG’s Department should be sought in making these appointments. Otherwise a question arises regarding the independence of such persons.

“In the instance where parliament was dissolved by the President, it is a question whether the President obtained the advice of the AG. But we don’t see that he did so. However, the AG had to defend the President decision in court. In that instance, the AG regarded the President as his client and acted in his best interest.

Although several parties claimed that there were no provisions in our constitution for the setting up of special courts, the Justice Minister proved that it could be done and these special courts were set up. However, in spite of these special courts being set up there is a question as to whether there are enough cases for these courts. Hence attention should be focussed on this matter,” he said.

Suggesting that the Supreme Court rules should be changed which has now been gazetted, he said in FR cases the state officials, corporation officials and provincial councillors need not be specifically named.

However, he said when these rules are implemented one cannot predict what technical issues may arise. Hence, he appealed to the Attorney General’s Department not to attempt to win cases based on technical evidence. He asked that the AG’s Department take the example set by Former Attorney General K.C. Kamalasabesann who had adviced his staff that people file FR petitions because they have faced some injustice and therefore, not to try to dismiss such cases on technical grounds.

Pointing out that the AG is the advisor to the Government, he said despite that, lately the government and President had taken certain actions without the knowledge or advice of the AG. This puts the AG in a quandary too as questions are being raised regarding the AG and his department.

“According to the Constitution the AG should be named a party in every FR petition. If a case is to be filed against the President, then it should be done under the AG’s name. However, this does not mean that the AG is obliged to protect the President at all times. What is required is that the AG express his independent views to court as an amicus of the court. In this situation, we might even have to change certain paragraphs in the 19th Amendment, especially in situations like the past 52 day controversy. During that period when the Speaker sought the advice of the AG, they said that if the issue was taken to court, they might have to represent the president and therefore refused to advice the Speaker. Similarly, the legal Advisor to the Government is the AG. Hence there is a conflict of interest. If the AG has to act as instructed by the President as a client, then there arises an issue regarding their independence,” he said, adding that therefore, there is a compelling need to change the provisions of the constitution in this regard.

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Ranjan criticises Bribery Commission

State Minister of Highways and Road Development Ranjan Ramanayake yesterday in Parliament criticised the Bribery Commission for withdrawing the cases filed against MP Johnston Fernando regarding non-declaration of assets.

Speaking at the Committee Stage Debate of the ‘Budget 2019’ in Parliament yesterday when the Expenditure Heads of Justice and Prison Reforms Ministry were taken up, the State Minister questioned as to why the Bribery Commissioned filed cases in the first place if it cannot support them at the court.

“When the accused are acquitted from all charges as a result of the Bribery Commission withdrawing cases, they come out as heroes complaining of a political witch hunt. What is the rationale of filing cases if the Bribery Commission cannot prove them in court? It is an extra cost to the Government. If you cannot file a case properly don’t do it at all,” the State Minister accused the Bribery Commission.

Ramanayake also complained that Parliament is not showing interest in increasing the penalty of Rs. 1,000 for non-declaration of assets.

“Former MPs Sarana Gunawardena, Sajin Vaas Gunawardena and Duminda Silva pleaded guilty for non-declaration of assets and they were charged an insignificant amount of Rs 1,000 as penalty,” he observed.

The State Minister also requested the Justice Minister to change the laws to reverse the trend of seeking ‘anticipatory bail’. “An aunty of Makandure Madush has sought anticipatory bail for Madush. The trend was started by former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. If this trend continues even thieves in villages will seek anticipatory bail,” he said.

Ramanayake, observing that he has got 26 cases filed against him for speaking the truth about the judiciary, said that he would neither apologize nor withdraw any of his statements. “I have listed 42 witnesses to give evidences for what I said. President Mathiripala Sirisena is one among them, because it was he who revealed how former CJ Mohan Peiris met him following the Presidential Election begging for the CJ’s post while agreeing to give rulings in favour of him,” he added.

A heated exchange of words occurred between State Minister Ramanayake and UPFA MP Mohan Priyadarashana de Silva following Ramanayake’s speech. MP de Silva used un-parliamentary language at Ramanayake stating that he has no right to criticize the judiciary while having court cases for selling two vehicle permits.

Ramanayake, admitting that he sold the vehicle permit, observed 90 percent of MPs have done that. He added former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sold 6 vehicle permits and even MP Mohan Priyadashana de Silva is not an exception to the same accusation. MP de Silva at this point admitted that he too sold the vehicle permit but said he got no court case for doing so.

The Chair ordered to expunge the un-Parliamentary words used during the heated argument.

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Death penalty needed to tackle drug offenders- Amaraweera

MP Mahinda Amaraweera said in Parliament that the President’s decision to impose the death penalty for frequent drug offenders is something good in order to save the country’s youth from the drug menace.

He added that President Maithripala Sirisena was speaking during the public destroying of the seized cocaine by officials. People are making fun on social media claiming that this is wheat flour and not cocaine, but I witnessed it and there was no fraud committed as government analysts and other officials were there to test the cocaine and confirm its authenticity.

“In order to save the youth of this country,the imposition of the death penalty is good as frequent drug offenders will face the consequences.

“In 2018 there was a huge amount of cocaine seized and destroyed. Yet, people are anxious to know what exactly happened. Every amount of seized cocaine will be destroyed by the relevant officials”.

The MP pointed out, that when a minor drug offender is imprisoned, he is remanded together with other notorious drug peddlers and underworld elements. Hence, when this minor offender leaves prison, he comes out having made contacts with these notorious criminals and as a part of their drug mafia network.

Speaking at the Committee Stage budget debate, he added the country needs a fair legal system, where everyone gets the same legal assistance irrespective of their social standing. 


 

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