Deadlines and due process | Daily News

Deadlines and due process

Colombo Archbishop His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has once again reiterated his resolve to take to the streets if the Government further delays in taking action against those behind the Easter Sunday carnage including those who aided and abetted the crime and also those who paved the way for the bombings by their collective negligence. Speaking to the media outside the Kochchikade shrine following Easter Sunday mass, His Eminence did not mince his words about the action he proposes, even going to the extent of identifying those culpable who are still at large and questioning the alleged procrastination in acting on the recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry Report on the Easter Sunday attacks. His Eminence has set a deadline for April 21 – the second anniversary of the tragedy – before taking to the streets if there is a further delay in taking action to bring the culprits to book.

The Cardinal said they had waited two years and this was sufficient time for exposing those behind the carnage and those who stood by and let the tragedy occur. The Cardinal’s sentiments could be understood in the context of the undertaking he had given the families of the victims to ensure justice. In fact, it is on his solemn word that a bloodbath was averted. It also has to be accepted that dispensing justice usually takes time since due processes of the law have to be followed. It is in this light that a statement made by Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris assumes relevance.

Answering the media at an event in Colombo, Prof. Peiris said the entire process of applying the law was in the hands of the Attorney General and the Government cannot intervene per se in this regard. Minister Rohitha Abeygunasekera too expressed similar sentiments saying it is the AG and not the Government itself which is involved in the matter.

True, it is the AG who is responsible for the entire legal process and filing cases against the suspects. The CID, it is reported, had concluded their cases based on the Commission findings. It will no doubt be a painstaking process for the AG who will have to establish watertight cases against those held in custody and this, no doubt, is going to take time. Besides, any room left for the suspects to get away via loopholes in the law will only bring to naught the wish of His Eminence for justice on behalf of his flock.

Hence this whole affair should be viewed devoid of emotion if the desired outcome is to bear fruition. However understandable the Cardinal’s sentiments are, the demand for meeting deadlines is not advisable and what is more, risks cases against the suspects getting unstuck. In law one cannot also come to conclusions with a fixed mindset – that is assuming the parties are guilty even while the inquiries (by the AG) are ongoing. Granted, two years is a long time for action not to be taken. But one must also not forget that much time was taken by the Commission in questioning the various parties implicated and their testimony too is vital.

In any event, a Government cannot be seen to be acting on conclusions reached beforehand by manipulating the legal process. The entire matter now is in the hands of the AG. It is him and no one else who is responsible for sifting through the material available to make them stand up before a court of law which will be the ultimate arbiter.

It is to the credit of His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith that he went to great lengths to keep the Easter Sunday tragedy alive in the public mind when the tendency is to forget such calamities in no time as witnessed during the war years. True, his comments may have rubbed certain politicians on the wrong side, but one also has to understand his frustration at the pace things were moving to ensure justice to the bereaved families. His sentiments in this respect and his steadfast determination to fight to the bitter end has also won for him the praise and admiration of the Maha Sangha and other religious leaders who continue to commiserate with him. They have pledged to support any action taken by His Eminence to nudge the authorities into action. In fact, Bhikkus in large numbers rallied to his public call for the March 7 Black Sunday protests, expressing solidarity with the Catholic Church. They also helped rebuild the damaged churches. It is hoped that his quest for justice will be realized sooner rather than later with the wheels of justice grinding relentlessly to reach those responsible.

For this to happen there ought to be patience and the AG given a free hand to build his cases devoid of prejudice. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has repeatedly promised to bring to book the agents of this horrendous tragedy which of course has to be in accordance with the law. There cannot be mob justice in a civilized world where even the obviously guilty are given a fair hearing.