Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 09 October 2016






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Government Gazette

BASL President:

Judges not immune to scrutiny

‘No evidence of phone tapping’:

Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Geoffrey Alagaratnam has said that the judiciary cannot be immune from public scrutiny and wants the news media to criticise judges and court rulings “in a proper manner”. At the same time the BASL head refused to further probe recent complaints that the police were eavesdropping on a judge’s telephone conversations.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the BASL President was questioned about remarks he had earlier made criticising some sections of the news media for their allegations against certain judges.

Mr. Alagaratnam said that some sections of the news media had targeted certain judges and made accusations in a way that the general public could begin to lose confidence in the judiciary as whole. He pointed out that while judges could give wrong judgements, they should be questioned on points of law rather than be accused of taking bribes and ruling in favour of the influencing party.

“I don’t think judges should be immune from public scrutiny. Judges should be criticized in the proper manner; especially if they have written a judgment that is unworthy. But to say a judge took a bribe or the judge was influenced, if that is true there are mechanisms to refer to.

“You can complain to the chief justice. Or you can complain to the police or the CID. And then CID would seek permission of the chief justice and initiate investigations to see whether such allegations are true or otherwise.

“But my problem is that it’s not a question of merely attacking one judge. I am not saying that all judges are honest. But, the overall effect when you go on attacking a couple of judges is that the public perception is that the entire Judiciary is bad and corrupt. You then lose faith in the whole judicial system. And isn’t that bad for democracy?

“People will say, what’s the big idea of going to courts? as they too are corrupt. So there might be a hasty generalization. Your target maybe one judge or two judges but it has an effect on the judiciary as a whole. Anyone can ciriticise a judgment or say it’s strange or faulty due to maybe overwhelming evidence, but to say a judge took a bribe or was influenced is not the responsible way of criticizing,” the BASL chief said.

The BASL President also denied that the Association should probe a recent claim by a lawyer that a certain judge’s telephone was being tapped by the security authorities.

“We can’t go on only on that basis as it’s only hearsay. If that was the case why hasn’t the judge complained to the Chief Justice? Or in the alternative, why didn’t the judge with the permissions of the chief Justice report it to the CID?

“It’s not that I am disbelieving these statements but we are in a responsible profession. No firsthand information has been received to act on it. In my role as the president of the Bar Association I cannot be taking on an investigative role. If we have sufficient evidence we can go ahead but not merely fishing for it,” Mr. Alagaratnam said.

“I am mindful that, even in the media, there are undercurrents of people who have their own agendas and personal reasons. I am not trying to align myself with the ulterior motive of some people who are trying to criticize the media or trying to criticize the state.

“They are saying that the President or the Prime Minister is behind the CID trying to harass this judge because he has given a dissenting judgment. That’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is that looking at it in a manner of principle. Because there are various, perhaps hidden agendas of various people and I don’t want to be a party to that.”


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