Sri Lanka minister’s complaint to SC triggers new crisis

ECONOMYNEXT –  A complaint to the Supreme Court against the conduct of former chief justice Sarath Silva may have unwittingly triggered a knotty question – should English take precedence over Sinhala  — in unravelling what promises to be thorny constitutional issue.

Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake set the ball rolling when he lodged a formal complaint with Chief Justice Priyasath Dep over Silva’s alleged violation of the constitution by engaging in the legal profession that is barred for retired superior court judges.

Ramanayake pointed out that Silva breached Article 110 (3) of the constitution as spelt out in Sinhalese, an official language of the country which clearly prohibits a retired supreme court pleading, appearing before or acting any court or institution, or practicing the profession.

However, the English translation of the constitution appears to be less clear in what a retired judge can do when a court or institution is not involved.

The English version leaves room for Silva to be a legal counsel as long as he does not practice in a court, tribunal or an institution, but the original Sinhala version takes a broader view and bars a retired judge engaging in the legal profession even outside courts.

Recent Acts of parliament stipulate that Sinhala will take precedence over any other language in the event of any discrepancy in translations, but  the Supreme Court has a tradition of going by the English version in their normal course of work.

“This could be a test case, because the SC will have to decide if they go by tradition and take the English version, or follow the Sinhala text, a senior lawyer told Economynext.com

Retired superior court judges can engage in law practice only on the written permission of the president, and Ramanayake said he was confident that Silva had not obtained such permission when he acted as legal counsel to former president Mahinda Rajapaksa on August 17.

The Social Empowerment deputy minister Ramanayake said Silva was by former president’s side when he was questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department in connection with the 2008 abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyahr.

When the former president was questioned,  Rajapaksa had also obtained legal advice from Ali Sabry, Jayantha Weerasinghe, P. Ganesh and G. L. Peiris in addition to Sarath Silva, according to court records.
 
The CID officers had reportedly stopped professor Peiris intervening as he had no standing in the case. Although he is a professor of law, Peiris has no license to practice law.
 
In the case of Sarath Silva, out of respect for the previous office he held, the CID did not stop him, but reported the matter to the Mount Lavinia magistrate. Proceedings during the August 17 questioning were also tape recorded with permission from president Rajapaksa.

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The tapes are almost certain to form part of any Supreme Court inquiry into the complaint by deputy minister Ramanayake who is also known as “One Shot” in connection with his acting career.  (COLOMBO, September 8, 2018)

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