Judiciary Must Earn Public Respect

Fowling article based on the excerpts from the speech delivered by Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya, P.C. at the ceremonial sitting to welcome the new Chief Justice, W.P.G. Dep.

by Jayantha Jayasuriya

( March 19, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In 2011, a thirty three year long journey in an institution established more than a century ago came to an end. The Ordinance No: 1 of 1833, having created the Office of the Attorney General in this country entrusted this Office with the responsibility of carrying out all responsibilities discharged by the Queen’s Advocate. All rights, privileges and powers vested on the Office of Queen’s Advocate were transferred unto the Attorney General.

Since then, rights, duties and privileges attached to the Office of the AG, have evolved through different constitutions and other legislation dealing with judicature and criminal procedure. The wide array of powers bestowed on the Office of the AG in relation to the administration of criminal justice has developed longstanding time-tested traditions to ensure that all these powers and privileges are exercised to ensure equality among all who are brought before justice.

Your Lordships, it remains our duty to ensure that all these rich traditions and practices evolved over 13 decades are further enriched through our continued adherence to good practices and conscious contributions to further enhance and strengthen them. They need to be protected and preserved to ensure that our future generations will have the benefit to enjoy the services of an efficient and effective office of AG.

The Bench and the Bar, though play different roles, work towards achieving the same goal. Fair and effective dispensation of justice to Society remains a primary objective of this exercise. The Office of the Attorney General has a unique place in the administration of justice mechanism. The interrelationship between the Judiciary and the Attorney General is aptly described by His Lordship Chief Justice NDM Samarakoon QC in the five-Judge-Bench decision in Land Reform Commission vs Grand Central Ltd., in the following words:

“The Attorney General of this country is the Leader of the Bar and the Highest Legal Officer of the State. As Attorney General, he has a duty to Court, to the State and to the subject to be wholly detached, wholly independent and act impartially with the sole object of establishing the truth. It is for that reason that all courts in this land request the appearance of the Attorney General as amicus curiae when the Court requires assistance, which assistance has in the past been readily given.”

My Lord Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, You Lordship’s diligent and committed service during the three decade long career in the Attorney General’s Department further illuminated Your Lordship’s path. The pleasing manner and the simplicity inherent in Your Lordship’s character attract respect and support from all quarters. Your Lordship’s unique disposition studded with patience and firmness had taken you to the highest seat of your country, the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

Qualities, skills and competency Your Lordship developed and gained while holding judicial office as a Judge of the Supreme Court during the last six years blended with wealth of experience acquired in discharging duties in the Attorney General’s Dept. no doubt would further strengthen the ability to meet the challenges and discharge duties in this onerous position.

Building, preserving and further strengthening public confidence on the administration of justice mechanism needs to be identified as a priority in a society that depends on the rule of law as a strong pillar supporting democracy. Public confidence in this context should not be mixed up or misunderstood as popularity or giving way to pressures disregarding the legal order. To achieve true democracy, pedestals from which justice is dispensed should not only be independent and impartial but should earn public respect and confidence. In modern day society new criteria, methods and yardsticks have been developed to assess the efficiency and efficacy of a system.

While accountability remains a major obligation criteria such as effective use of the resources and efficiency measured by performance results have become the yardstick in assessing success or failures of public and private enterprises. It is important My Lords, to raise the question, “How far and to what extent such criteria can be used to determine the standards of the institutions functioning in the administration of justice mechanism?” Even though the results of such an exercise could lead to enhanced public confidence how much would the Judicial Independence be eroded or encroached upon if such an exercise is entrusted to a third party.

In today’s world the thirst to receive information and Public Criticism had become overwhelmingly interwoven and could be ensured that the Administration of Justice mechanism will function to the benefit of the Society. Failure in this would bring results detrimental to the whole Society.

In this context My Lords, it is apt to bear in mind the following words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Law and Order exist for the purpose of establishing Justice and when they fail in this purpose, they become a dangerously structured dam that blocks the flow of Social Progress.”

Jayantha Jayasuriya is the 29th Attorney General of Sri Lanka


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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