Imprisonment over contempt court charges legal but disproportionate: constitutional lawyer

Actor-politician Ranjan Ramanayake being taken in a prison van after a court appearence/Amitha Thennekoon EconomyNext (file photo)

ECONOMYNEXT – Imprisonment over contempt of court charges is legal but is increasingly seen as inappropriate and disproportionate, a top constitutional lawyer said.

Director, Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, Dr Asanga Welikala told EconomyNext that, in such an event, a public apology should be adequate.

The Supreme Court sentenced opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Ranjan Ramanayake to four years’ rigorous imprisonment today over contempt of court charges, in connection with disparaging remarks he had allegedly made about the judiciary in August 2017.

According to Welikala, the power to punish for contempt of court lies completely at the discretion of the court. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, he said, where English law principles are used like in Sri Lanka, many countries have introduced legislation to regulate contempt of court powers.

“Such Acts balance the need to ensure respect for the judiciary with the freedom of expression, and impose limits on punishments. Generally imprisonment, rigorous or otherwise, is now regarded as an inappropriate and disproportionate form of punishment for contempt offences. A public apology should suffice,” he said.

Reported by Himal Kotelawala (Colombo/Jan12/2021)

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  1. Contempt is not a serious crime when the offenders are brought before court normally they are warned and discharged. This is the first time in Sri Lankan history a political individual got maximum punishment for such an offence, but a conditional punishment would be justifiable. I can’t predict what will happen to those who supported him

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