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DateLine Sunday, 23 March 2008

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National Law Week 2007/2008:

Legal awakening for social justice



A large gathering at the second National Law Week Exhibition

A display of the digital technology in the Colombo District Court 1

Digitally displayed case lists

Case lists manually displayed



Nihal Jayamanne, PC

'Legal awakening for social justice' in a scenario where litigation has taken the better of society; their time and more precisely exhausted them of their assets was an apt theme awakening people to their legal rights and privileges guaranteed them by the Constitution and other laws of the country as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka held its second National Law Week 2007/2008.

Legal aid clinics rendering their services to the public by facilitating advise free of charge were set up at the exhibition at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo last Saturday which was patronized by a large gathering of members of the judiciary, lawyers and the public who took time off to make it a meaningful exercise.

'Lawyers have been living out of the public for generations. Thus, there is a social responsibility on the part of a lawyer to give back of their services to the public and educate them of their duties and make them aware of their rights.

The commonly asked questions by many people still are on Fundamental Rights issues. Their perception is that they have to go behind a person for their 'right'. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has been fulfilling this obligation over the years and this should necessarily be supported by the private sector if the country is thinking in terms of 'an educated population so that contracts will not be broken.

People should be educated and have a basic knowledge of simple issues like 'how to make a complaint to the Police or a Court of Law and have a basic knowledge on Human Rights', expressed President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, Nihal Jayamanne, PC.

Meanwhile, Lalanthi Kumari, Legal Officer in charge of the Migrant Workers Unit, Legal Aids Commission expressing her opinion said most complaints were received after having faced a problem.' The Legal Aids Commission does a lot of work on awareness island wide on women's and child rights, rights of elders, migrant workers and Human Rights.

They even provide legal assistance to people on matters such as divorce and maintenance, land appeals and Fundamental Rights whose monthly income is below Rs 6,000. Such persons are required to get the certification of the Grama Sevaka in order to avail themselves of this service . For those seeking assistance from the Legal Aids Commission, applications could be obtained at their Office at Hulftsdorp throughout the week from 9-4.30 pm' she revealed.

Meanwhile, the crisis centre with six hospital centers to its credit which works tirelessly around the country to protect women and children who are subject to violence, the Women-in Need (WIN) centre at 122 Cotta Road Borella was also represented at the exhibition for those seeking psychological counseling and other legal services.

WIN is an organization which offers services to the public free of charge and is opened on weekdays from 9 am-5 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 9am- 12 noon with a 24 hour Hotline 4718585.

Awareness is important and assistance is available to any one who seeks our advise to reverse situations in the lives of women and children for better, said Executive Director(WIN), Savithri Wijesekera.

Spanning a long history, The Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the judiciary have come a long way as the Colombo District Court 1, the Commercial High Court and the Kandy District Court now boast of introducing modernized technology via a very comprehensive system in par with the courthouses in Singapore and Hong Hong .

The Court Automation Project, the brainchild of Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva and project of the World Bank has today replaced the age-old manual system of recordings by the steno typist with state-of-the-art digital recording enabling video conferencing facilities to those overseas who are unable to come over to Sri Lanka to have their evidence recorded at a given time.

'A hundred per cent accuracy is assured with this state-of -the -art technology, District Judge Colombo and President of the Judicial Services Commission, Justice Sisira Ratnayake told the Sunday Observer. Justice Sisira Ratnayake is the first judge to avail himself of the digital technology and tracking system which he says is a major advancement in the annals of our judiciary system.

The new system also helps reduce laws' delays as the entire proceedings could be viewed on a large screen or on the computer screens placed in front of the lawyers which helps make alterations instantaneously in the event of an error.

The stenographer is no longer required to sit in the court room; proceedings could be viewed from the Control Room where it is voice recorded whereby the stenographer could listen to and even play back the record to record the proceedings of a case accurately.

With the introduction of digital technology in these fully air conditioned court rooms, case lists are also now being displayed digitally outside the court room alongside the manual board which does the same function which is still being used as a back up device; yet another step in the direction of minimizing laws' delays and other shortcomings', Justice Sisira Ratnayake explained.

The State today according to statistics has under 300 judges and 24 High Courts , 23 District Courts, 36 District/ Magistrate courts, 46 Magistrate Courts and 14 Civil Appeal High Court island wide. 'Faced with this reality it has become necessary that we move towards advancement and state-of-the-art technology to reduce laws' delays and ensure social justice to all.'

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