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Sunil de Silva, PC

An exceptional repository of legal knowledge and acumen

This morning I learnt of the death of Mr. Sunil Chandra de Silva, PC - former Attorney General.

I initially met him when I joined the Attorney General’s Department in 1987. He was one of the gentlemen who interviewed me. The AG at that time was Shiva Pasupathi. I recall the grilling that I had when he questioned me on Manawadu v AG which had been just pronounced.

He had his early education at Royal College, Colombo and was very proud of his alma mater. Even though I did not know him personally when I joined the Department, he took an instant liking to me. Later on in life I got to know that he was closely connected to the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, PC, who also played an important part in moulding me.

Mr. De Silva was very sad when I was selected to the Civil Branch. However, despite my allocation he used to send me Criminal files. A year after I joined the Department Mr. De Silva was appointed as Attorney General (AG) in 1988. While keeping me in the civil side he appointed me as State Counsel (SC) Administration as junior to Kolitha Dharmawardene initially and then to Mohan Pieris, who later became Chief Justice and is now the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York.

I was relatively junior for that appointment. Later he had commented that I was an incorrigible person and that the only way to reform was to put me in charge of administration. That was a golden opportunity as I was compelled to study Administrative Regulations (ARs) and Financial Regulations (FRs) and other Government Circulars. He knew all circulars by heart.

He was a very intelligent man and was extremely mischievous. Those in the Department at that time would remember the pranks that he played on people. He had a marvellous sense of humor. His candour and repartee was second to none.

He was a stern AG. He never believed in the media and in fact on the contrary issued several circulars restraining the members of the Department from going public on various issues.

He was one of those who developed my liking to history, traditions and ethical standards. He also developed our computer skills. I recall that he got a few of us trained in computers as we had joined the Department. Nalin Ladduwahetty, PC, was his best student in the area of computers.

He was also a fast driver. I recall many instances where we had travelled out of Colombo for official work. He used to take the wheel and drive at a speed of around 120 Kmph violating most of the provisions of the Motor Traffic Act (MTA). Anyway who cared, after all he was the AG.

In the first Neethi Ranga (the annual variety entertainment show held by lawyers) that we held, the AG’s Department staged a play. Mr. De Silva acted in that and directed it. I recall taking part in that skit with my friend Shavindra Fernando. Later on I had the opportunity of acting with him in a few instances in He Comes from Jaffna. Elson Divithurugama played He Comes from Jaffna’ s role. Mohamad Adamally played the role of Aru, his son. I played the same role taking turns. Angela Seneviratne, Kumar Paul, Shavindra Fernando and Sunil Rodrigo, AAL and former GM Galle Face Hotel were the other actors along with Mr. Sunil de Silva himself.

Mr De Silva was a pleasing personality. We all enjoyed his sense of humour. He was never at a loss for words. He enjoyed company. Even though he migrated to Australia, (where he passed away) his heart was here. He kept in touch with all of us. Whenever he came for the Royal Thomian Big Match in March he met a few of us. The last time I had the opportunity of meeting him was when former AG Palitha Fernando, PC, organized a dinner at his place for all the Department Old Boys.

A few days ago he messaged me and checked whether his pension was being regularly deposited to the BOC account here. I immediately checked and informed him that it indeed was. He wanted to use that in Sri Lanka when he visited here the next time.

Only yesterday he had taken a shot at Hiran Kulatilleke on a common WhatsApp thread that we were all in.

He always believed in creating the next generation. He shared his knowledge with every one without any reservation. He was kind to all but fearless. He continued to share his experience and knowledge even after retirement. He was a very sharp and an intelligent human being.

We have learnt lots and lots from you, Sir.

Life would have been different if we did not come across people like you.

We cherish and appreciate every second spent with you.

May you attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

May your journey through Samsara be short.

(The writer is President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka)