The inside story of 'Eelam Courts'
We have a strong legal system says LTTE legal chief
Chris Kamalendran in Kilinochchi
Tamil guerrillas have put into operation a full-fledged legal system in areas dominated by them in the north and East and are looking forward to expand it. The guerrillas have put into place a 'law college' to train their lawyers, put up as many as 17 courts including a special bench, similar to the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka. The only difference being that the final decisions regarding the appeals are referred to LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Kilinochchi District Court Judge Thambirasa Varathishwaran.
Pix by J. Weerasekera

A 'Chief Justice', an 'Attorney General' , a post equivalent to the Legal draftsman and a range of other 'judges' varying from 'Court of Appeal judges' to 'Magistrates have also been appointed. As in any other court in the south, Registrars and interpreters have been appointed.

"Our legal system is a strong one. We have based our system on the existing Sri Lankan, Indian and British laws. We have carefully studied these laws and made our own laws," says the LTTE's Legal and Administration division chief Illayathamby Pararajasingham, one time Member of Parliament.

Following are excerpts from the interview with the legal chief who is popularly known as Para.

What was the need to introduce a separate legal system ?
Our leader felt that the legal system in the country was not helping the poor. Therefore he decided that the 'Tamil Eelam' areas should have a separate courts and a legal system which could serve the poor. From the early 1990's we have been developing the legal system. We introduced the 'law college' in 1992 with the courses first being opened only to the LTTE armed cadres who had passed the Advanced Level examination. The first batch only included 25 students.
Today as many as 700 people including LTTE cadres send in applications to join the 'law college' . But only 50 are selected to follow the five year course which includes three years academic and two years apprenticeship.

How do you conduct the lectures ?
They follow lectures given by lawyers living in the LTTE controlled areas, as well as lawyers who come from the south for lectures at the college in Mullaitivu. The college will soon be offering a scholarship scheme for poor children with A/Level qualifications. The courses cover a wide range of subjects. (See separate story about LTTE 'Law College').

Has the LTTE introduced this system to challenge the system in the South ?
It is not to challenge the system in the south, but to run a smooth civil administration in the north. We should have a system suitable for the people.

The LTTE has been opening more courts in recent weeks. The first court in the east was opened last month. Why are you opening them now ?
It is now that we are formalizing the courts system. All these years most of the matters taken up were reconciliation matters. We are now expanding the formal court system.

But, why are you opening them at this time, particularly after the signing of the MOU?
After the LTTE and the government signed the MoU people are gradually returning to normal life and there is a need for civil laws to be effective. Some of the main cases being taken up at our courts are cases related to land disputes and money transaction disputes. Some people returning home have found that some of their houses and land are being occupied by others.

There is a vacuum due to the non - existence of a legal system. We have to maintain law and order in the areas controlled by us. For this purpose we need the court system.

But there have been reports of the LTTE going to areas controlled by the Security Forces and arresting people. One such case was reported from the east. Any comment?
When there is a complaint , we have to take action whether it is from the cleared area or the uncleared area. We know of instances where the government police in the east have advised people to come to our police and make complaints.

How do you see the function of the LTTE courts in the future?
I am not clear on how we are going to gain recognition for our legal system and that is a matter which would be finally decided by the leader. However we have no plans to give up the system. The people in the north and east have lost faith in the legal system of the country. Therefore this system should continue. For example with the signing of the MoU there was an assurance that cases filed under the PTA would be reviewed and suspects released but that is not happening.

Functions of the Law College of Tamil Eelam
Extracts from an LTTE document outlining the ' The Law College of Tamil Eelam' Established in 1992. Objective :To cater to the legal needs and developments of the Judicial Administration which creates the freedom of the people of Tamil Eelam.

Subjects are lectured by those who are experts in the field , those qualified at the Sri Lankan Law college and by those qualified at the law colleges of Tamil Eelam . Matters of Law , and legal techniques of the countries like Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and Britain are included in the subjects..

Administration of Law college: A person who is a qualified expert in this field will be in charge of administration. Senate: An official will be in charge of this senate and senior lecturers and the experts in this field will be members of this senate. The Senate will meet to decide on the matters pertaining to students welfare, studies, examinations, release of results of examination, new academic year, convocation etc.

Study Course: Course is conducted in two categories as Internal and External courses. Freedom fighters and outside students fall into the first category. University graduates, employees from the government departments and non - governmental organizations, employees from the recognized organizations are admitted as external students.

Selection of Students for the Study Course: Those who have passed G.C.E. (A/L) Examination, university graduates, employees who have completed seven years of service in governmental and non - governmental organizations are admitted to these courses. Examination: Examination is held at the end of each academic year.

First Year

1. Criminal Law.
2. History of Law and Legal System.
3. Roman Dutch Law.
4. English Law.
5. Constitutional Law.
6. Human Rights and Rules.
7. Jurisprudence.
8. Law of Torts.
9. Law of contract.
10. Tamil Language and Literature.
11. English Language.

Second Year

1. Civil Procedure Code.
2. Criminal Procedure Code.
3. Commercial Law, Accountancy and Management.
4. Law of Property Act.
5. Law of Thesawalamai.
6. Family Law.
7. Police Act.
8. Personal Act.
9. Land Act..
10. English Language.

Third Year

1. Evidence Act.
2. Law of Trust and Property.
3. Administrative Law.
4. Trade Practices Act.
5. International Law.
6. Law of Deed.
7. Sales Tax Act.
8. Forensic Medicine and Criminology.
9. English Language.

We have an independent system says 'District Court Judge'
Thambirasa Varathishwaran, 34 is one of the students of the first batch of the 'LTTE law college' opened in 1992 in Mullaithivu. Today he is one of the 'senior judges' serving in the Kilinochchi 'District Court'. He has served in four areas over the past seven years and taken up more than 1000 cases.

Varathishwaran hailing from Batticaloa was a member of the LTTE military wing, but later opted to join the first batch of the 'law college'.

Speaking to The Sunday Times at the Kilinochchi 'District Court' he said cases to the courts are forwarded by the police. Police can keep a suspect in their custody only for 24 hours. If the police fail to carryout these instructions they are questioned and in some instances warned by the 'Courts'.

"The police' files a 'B' report, but the 'courts' do not accept it as it is. We cross examine the accused and try to determine whether the facts in the 'B' report are accurate. Unlike in the South we do not accept confession reports and charge persons," he said.

"After we are satisfied with the 'B' report we also summon any other party involved in the case. They can come with any lawyer, from any part of the country, but would have to take oaths in the LTTE courts before appearing there," he said.

"The maximum amount a lawyer could charge his client is Rs. 300 per appearance. But on many occasions people cannot afford this. For this we have lawyers who appear free of charge.

"In our legal system any case cannot exceed more than six months. So far all the cases have been finished within this period. The judicial system here is very independent. There are some cases against LTTE cadres. Some of these cases are taken up at 'military courts' which is a different set up," he said.

LTTE Courts structure Supreme Court:
Consists of three judges appointed by National Leader. It has the final jurisdiction with final judgements in respect of all cases.

Court of Appeal :
Consists of three judges who sit together in trials. Functions as the court which has jurisdiction on appeals in respect of cases tried before, by the high courts, District Courts and the Special Court.

Special Courts
(Sits only whenever the need arises): This court sits with three judges , who have been selected and arranged by the Chief Justice to hold the trials of criminal cases, that should have arisen out of incidents that have taken place in special circumstances and that be special events.

High Courts:
This court has the jurisdiction to try certain criminal cases in the terms of Court of Appeal Act.

District Courts (Civil):
The primary court with the jurisdiction in respect of civil cases.

District Courts (Criminal):
The primary court with the jurisdiction in respect of criminal cases.

Family Council:
Family Council will be formed in District Courts (Civil) and will be responsible for resolving family disputes.

LTTE courts open to all lawyers
By Sinniah Gurunathan
The man who is regarded as the 'Chief Justice' of the Tamil guerrilla 'courts' says lawyers passing out from Sri Lanka Law College and Law Faculties could appear and argue for their clients in 'Thamileelam law courts' in the northeast province, but would have to take oaths in 'Eelam courts' before their appearances.

S. Opilan made the comments after the ceremonial opening of the Trincomalee District 'Court of Thamileelam' at Kattaiparichchan early this week. At the ceremony along with Opilan the 'District Judges' of Kilinochchi and Trincomalee Mr. Maniarasan and Mr. Mayuran were also present.

" There are sixteen 'Thamileelam law courts' in areas held by the LTTE in the northeast province.

LTTE cadres who obtained training in the judiciary are holding judicial posts. We dispense justice under the 'Thamileelam criminal and civil procedure codes," Mr.Opilan said. Elaborating on the 'Thamileelam Law College' he said that it was functioning since 1990 and upto now six batches of lawyers have passed out from the college.

He said upto now Thamileelam courts in LTTE areas had disposed of more than 23,000 Less than five percent of litigants had appealed against the judgments. This shows that more than ninety five percent of the litigants were satisfied with the judgments of the LTTE courts.

GL says no more LTTE courts
The LTTE has assured that it will take steps not to expand its 'courts of Law' and hamper the peace process, Government's chief peace negotiator G.L. Peiris said.

The assurance was given by LTTE's chief negotiator Anton Balasingham during the last round of peace talks in Oslo early this week, he said.

Prof. Peiris said Mr. Balasingham had agreed that it would refrain from any kind of activity that would whip up emotions against the peace process.

Minister Peiris said that the issue is being used by 'spoiler elements' who want to jeopardize the peace process.

He said the LTTE police stations and courts would not engage in activities in areas coming under government control.

Interview with Chief Justice Sarath N de Silva
LTTE has no judicial authority - CJ
By Laila Nasry
What are your comments on the controversial LTTE 'courts'?
These courts are not consistent with our constitution and they cannot exist under our hierarchy. Our courts are fully functional in those areas and we do not recognise any other courts. The people too should not go there.

Before1994, LTTE courts functioned in different parts of the country, but subsequent to those areas coming under government control and being cleared, the state has been systematically establishing courts in the North and East.

However we are aware that in Kilinochchi which is an uncleared area an LTTE court is in existence. This court is in our building and there is a board saying 'Court of Tamil Eelam. We sent the Secretary of the JSC there to verify it and he reported to us that he had seen the board and that there was such a court in existence."

Do you see this as a serious problem?
We must maintain our courts because that is what holds for governance. Legal systems, courts, police are all incidence of governance. If there is an erosion then there is no state. This is the danger of it. That's why we have been systematically establishing courts.

It is easy for someone to create courts. But what is important is the proper functioning of them. We have functioning courts. They are open and anyone can walk in and watch the proceedings.

Can the LTTE exercise judicial power?
No. The LTTE can have a conciliation mechanism if they want,like if two neighbours are at dispute then settling such a dispute in an amicable manner is all right. But they have no judicial authority.

Judicial power is part of the sovereignty of the people and it cannot be exercised by any other person than those who are vested with it. If someone else is administering justice then he is doing it on his own accord.

For example in the 1988 and 1989 period, the people were apprehended by the JVP and dealt with-now that was not judicial power. It is an example of someone assuming authority and administering what they believed to be justice.

What about the people who are being dealt with by these LTTE courts?
If we are informed by any person that he has been incarcerated by these so called courts we will issue a writ of Habeas Corpus to have him released.

Is there an existing judicial system in the North and East?
Of course. From around the time I was Attorney General we have been setting up courts. Currently the Wanni area has two new courts in Vavuniya and in Mannar. Vavuniya has a hierarchy with a Magistrates Court, District Court and a High Court. Previously in Jaffna although there were judges there were no courts because they had been destroyed by the war. Nevertheless a few courts functioned in private old buildings.

However currently in the Jaffna peninsula courts have been set up in Jaffna town, Mallakam, Point Pedro, Kayts and in Chavakachcheri. During the Elephant Pass debacle the Chavakachcheri court was damaged. Now it is housed in an old building in close proximity to Point Pedro. Courts in the Eastern province have also been established from Pottuvil upto Muttur. The court in Muttur and Kantale are circuit courts but will be made permanent next year. Officers in these courts are all people from the area and the Attorney General has also assigned State Counsel to appear in Vavuniya and Jaffna.

Can the LTTE courts be integrated into our judicial system?
No. It is the Judicial Services Commission that has sole authority over the appointment of judges and these courts have no place in our system.

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