Dr. Jayatissa De Costa: A leading light of the law | Daily News
50 years in the legal profession

Dr. Jayatissa De Costa: A leading light of the law

Fifty years of unbroken practice in the law profession is a rare feat indeed and a record that only a very few among the black-coated gentry presently and in the past could boast of. Add to this a string of achievements in a multiplicity of disciplines and feats of endeavour and we have the quintessential multi-faceted professional one comes across only occasionally.

Into this rare breed of individuals, one who certainly would automatically fit in is well known Constitutional lawyer, President’s Counsel Dr. Jayatissa De Costa (LLB (Cey), LLM (Lond), Ph D.(Colombo) who marks 50 years as a lawyer today(13).

During his long and illustrious career as a practitioner of law, Dr. Costa had also ventured out into other fields and stepped into many boots where he achieved equal success and recognition as he did in the legal profession and where he was equally at home as he was as a leading law practitioner in which he stood tall among his peers.

Dr. De Costa could certainly look back with pride and extreme satisfaction on his career as a lawyer of 50 years and other achievements in this field as a teacher of law, examiner, author of law books and journals covering the various branches of the law which are standard texts today to law students culminating in him being appointed Principal of Law College. A generation of young lawyers some of whom are today big names at Hulftsdorp Hill could proudly claim to have come under his tutelage and guidance and owe their success in the legal profession to Dr. Costa who was known as a pillar among teachers of the law.

But his thirst for knowledge and curious nature took him also to realms outside the field of law as an expert on agriculture, advisor on tax matters and even as a voice of the employees subject to political victimisation, a researcher and science teacher, author and journalist going on to hold several posts in the State as well as the private sector into the bargain, a clear illustration of his versatility and intellectual drive. He is perhaps the only member of the law profession in this country who combined the practice of law with active engagement in other branches in the academic field at the top level. He found time to function as a teacher of Botany, Zoology and Chemistry at the same time and that certainly is a unique feat indeed.

Jayatissa De Costa was admitted to the Sri Lanka Bar on January 13, 1971, and practised in Civil and Criminal cases in the Appellate and Original Courts.

He has appeared free of charge for needy clients in a large number of cases throughout his 50 years of continuous practice.

Even before starting his practice, he started lecturing for candidates sitting for LLB (Ceylon) from December 1970.

In 1975, he entered the University of London to do the LLM degree under the supervision of Professor James Reed and Professor Eugene M. Cotral in the field of Comparative Constitutional Laws of the Commonwealth. In addition, he has followed courses on Principles of Civil litigation under Professor I.H. Jacob QC and courses in Criminology at King’s College. He was awarded a grant under Edwin Mountbatten Trust which is awarded to a competent Commonwealth student. During his stay in UK, he has also functioned as an overseas solicitor in Suriya and Co, a leading solicitor’s firm in London.

After obtaining his LLM from the University of London, he returned to Sri Lanka to resume his legal practice and lecturing law.

He was made an examiner for the examination of Sri Lanka Law College by the Council of Legal Education in 1972 just two years after becoming a lawyer which was a record at the time.

In the early ’70s, he started writing books for law students. His first work was ‘Cases on Constitutional Law’ published in 1971.

His latest book is in press now and is titled ‘Laws of Sri Lanka’ which is his 31st publication.

These publications include a number of science books also produced based on his articles which appeared from 1966 in the Sinhala Daily “Dinamina”. These articles were so popular that due to popular demand he had to send an English copy of it to the Tamil Daily “Thinakaran”.

The Sinhala weekly Science supplement was “Vidya Sangraha” whereas the Tamil one was “Kalangiam”. These were prepared while he was yet a law student.

Dr. Jayatissa De Costa was the first practising lawyer in the country to obtain LLB, LLM and PhD in law and the first person to pass the LLB final and law college final exam at the same time. In fact, he had to answer 173-hour papers within 30 days.

He holds the record of the largest number of apprenticing lawyers working under him in Sri Lanka (79 apprentices at the same time). Altogether more than 500 apprenticing lawyers have gone through his Chambers.

In 2010, in recognition of his standing at the Bar, he was appointed a President’s Counsel.

He is the first person to publish law books at the degree level in the Sinhala language. Some of these books like ‘Roman Law’, ‘Criminal Law’ and ‘Constitutional Law’ were the first works in Sinhala in those subjects.

During the past 50 years, he has published a large number of articles through print media and electronic media on legal topics. In addition, he functioned as an editor of the monthly newsletter of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. He was also an executive committee member and a branch president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

As a member of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka, which position he held for 10 years he was mandated to meet the Law Commissioner of England and Wales.

He was the first course coordinator of the LLB programme conducted by the Royal Institute of Colombo which is the leading recognized affiliate centre of the University of London which has produced best results so far.

Dr. Costa was also the course coordinator for the LLM programme of the University of Northumbria in England conducted in Sri Lanka by the Business Management School where he was the President.

He had the distinction of being the overseas supervisor for the PhD programme in Law in a British University when he was the supervisor for a candidate for PhD in International Law of the Sea where the final interview was held via satellite for the PhD degree in the University of Solent in England.

He was also a member of the Board of Governors of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International and Strategic Studies. Amidst his busy practice and academic work, he found time for national development in being a lawyer member, Deputy Chairman and the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka from 2002 to 2013.

Dr. De Costa has also served as a member of an agricultural tribunal from 1976 to 1977 and was a panel member of Acting District Judges and Magistrates in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990. He also acted as an examiner and supervisor for PhD theses in the Law Faculties of a number of universities from 1995 to date.

Having lectured in all the universities where law is taught in this country and the Sri Lanka Law College, he was invited to become the Principal of Sri Lanka Law College in early 2014 in which position he functioned for two years.

Dr. Costa also found the time to enter the private sector becoming a Director of a number of companies including Richard Peiris and Co Ltd.

His publications in Law include Constitutional Law (1971), Cases on Criminal Law (1972), Roman Law (1978), Criminal Law (1978), The Legal History and legal System of Sri Lanka (1980), The Science of Law (1980), Elements of Criminal Law (1980), Laws of Parliamentary Elections (1985), International Law (1987), Jurisprudence (1988), The Courts of Sri Lanka (1992), Special Laws of Sri Lanka (1992) and others.

The science publications edited by him include Activities of the Earth (1989), Agricultural Sciences (2001), Plants and Environment (2002), Plants World (2002), Animal World (1993), Fire (1998) and Water (1997).

Dr. De Costa had his early education at St. Aloysius’ College Ratnapura were he won the class price for a number of years and then for tertiary education he entered Dharmapala Vidyalaya Pannipitiya where he was awarded the coveted ‘Dharmapala Swarna Padma’ award in 2007.

He studied Chemistry, Botany and Zoology for the BSc degree in the University of Ceylon as an external candidate and also followed courses at Aquinas University College. Then he started teaching those subjects as a member of leading educational institutes in Colombo and he supervised and guided the first external candidate who successfully underwent a course leading to the general science qualifying degree of the University of Ceylon.

His scholarly achievements, wide fame and renown as a leading academic in the country and abroad, sit light on Dr. Jayatissa De Costa who continues to remain a humble, unassuming and down to Earth individual who leads a simple life and ever willing to help out those who seek his advice and counsel, mixing freely with all alike, exuding bonhomie and camaraderie.