the beginning of a new chapter on legal luminaries
A Humane Judge - Sir Thomas Edward De Sampayo. By Rienzie
Weereratne. Published by Typeforce, Melbourne, 2004. 148 Pages.
Reviewed by A.R.B. Amerasinghe.
millions die and sink into oblivion and their deeds die with them.
But some few masterminds remain, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci,
Issac Newton, Albert Einstein are examples. A few hundreds so far
conquer death as to leave their names to those with special, limited
interests. These include great statesmen, scholars, philosophers
and scientists. In general, men and women, in all walks of life,
play their part, and some even contribute significantly to the communities
they serve before they move on. An 'appreciation' or two may sometimes
recall their good deeds, but little else is conveyed to posterity.
far as the legal profession is concerned, there are few who are
remembered. Although in some countries - particularly The United
States and the United Kingdom - there are some excellent biographies
of lawyers and judges, Sri Lanka has made little contribution. The
only biography is Grenier's Leaves From My Life. In my book on the
Supreme Court, I attempted to provide biographical sketches of judges
and lawyers who served the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in its first
185 years. Little else exists, except the occasional tribute or
sketch on some special occasion.
that context, Rienzie Weereratne's work on Sir Thomas de Sampayo
is most welcome, and it is hoped, that it will mark the beginning
of a new era. De Sampayo is an eminently suitable starting point,
for as Judge Weeramantry says in the Foreword, "His depth of
legal learning and clarity of legal analysis combined with his sensitivity
to the problems of litigants placed him by common accord among the
wisest and most humane of judges." At the ceremonial sitting
of the Supreme Court to bid Justice de Sampayo farewell, Sri Henry
Gollan said: "His profound erudition has been strengthened
by a virile common sense and all these qualities have created that
intellectual distinction which marks all the work his Lordship has
done as a member of the Supreme Court. My Lord, you are retiring
honoured by His Majesty the King, acclaimed by the community as
a whole and carrying with you the reverent and affectionate regard
of your profession." At the unveiling of his portrait in the
Law Library, Justice Garvin expressed the hope that the portrait
would "keep fresh and green the memory of one who was an eminent
and wise judge, a great and good man, loved by his friends, held
in affection by all those who knew him, respected by all."
a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man! To be regarded
in his own age as a classic and in our own as a model. To receive
from his contemporaries, both in and out of the Courts, that full
homage which extraordinary men usually received only from posterity!
book comprises a Foreword, Preface, ten chapters, three appendices
and an index. The author commences his biography with a chapter
describing the colonial setting in which Sir Thomas lived and worked.
It sets out the very limited opportunities for advancement open
to 'natives', and official positions in the hierarchy of colonial
administration, and the moderate means of lesser chiefs like Sir
Thomas' father, Maha Vidane Mudaliar Gabriel de Sampayo. Weereratne
then describes Sir Thomas' early years. Thomas began his education
at St. Benedict's Institution. He lost his father soon after. They
were difficult times. He had to walk unshod for quite some distance,
from his home in Silversmith Street to Kotahena. His clothes were
often frayed and he had to study by the light of a bottle lamp.
He won a Queen's scholarship, which enabled him to continue his
studies at the Colombo Academy, as Royal College was then known.
He excelled in school, winning the Form Prize and Prizes for Latin
and Maths, and the Turnour Prize. Having won the English University
Scholarship, he went up to Cambridge and joined Clare College where
he obtained his LL.B degree in 1881. (Later, when he built his mansion
at Silversmith Street, he named it "Clareden”.) He was
called to the Bar from the Middle Temple in the same year and started
practice in Colombo.
Thomas had no connections at the Bar, and for some time, he was
in difficult circumstances. In fact, at one stage he attempted to
join the teaching staff at Royal College, or join the Education
Department in an administrative capacity. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
As a means of securing some income, he gave private tuition to law
students at his house, and became a lecturer and examiner at the
newly established Law College.
that time he was a co-editor of the Ceylon Law Reports and translated
Johannes Voet's title on Donations into English. These activities
played some part in drawing attention to him. He impressed the leader
of the bar, Frederick Dornhorst, when his draft pleadings in a matter
were given to Dornhorst by the proctor in the case. Gradually, the
good news spread and well-known proctors - F.J. de Saram in particular
began to brief him. His appearances increased rapidly. There was
no sphere of work to which he limited himself. He declined appointment
as a District Judge as well the offer of a senior position in the
Crown. By 1903, he had reached the zenith and he was sworn in as
a King's Counsel with Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Frederick Dornhorst
- the first "silks" of the Bar of Sri Lanka. In 1903 he
accepted appointment as a Commissioner of Assize. He was appointed
a Puisne Justice in 1915 and was appointed senior Puisne Justice
in 1922. He functioned as Acting Chief Justice on several occasions,
and in 1924 was conferred with the rank of Knight Bachelor by the
book contains a list of references in the New Law Reports to some
of Sir Thomas' cases. There are also excerpts from judgments. There
is no analysis of the cases of excerpts and what their significance
is to the development of the law or Sir Thomas' role as a "humane
judge". This is disappointing; but then, the author is not
his work at the Bar, Sir Thomas amassed a great fortune and came
to own several tea and coconut estates. His favourite place was
his coconut estate "Henaratgoda" to which he regularly
went with the members of his extended family for relaxation. He
built himself a large mansion - "Clareden" - at Silversmith
Street. The author, Rienzie Weereratne, was born nine months after
Sir Thomas died, but he lived at "Clareden" with his mother
- Sir Thomas' sister's daughter - who ran the great house for Sir
Thomas, heard anecdotes of the great man's life, spent holidays
at Henaratgoda, and eventually came to own some of his silverware
and glassware, his satinwood dining table, and his leather -bound
Douay Bible, Incidentally, his satinwood furniture was made of the
dismantled, famous satinwood bridge over the Mahaweli at Peradeniya.
personal connection adds warmth to the narration in a unique kind
of way. Sir Thomas did not marry. He devoted his life to accommodating
and looking after his large, extended family at "Clareden".
from his deep concern for the welfare of his family, Sir Thomas
was a committed Christian. He once remarked: "If I am not a
Catholic, I am nothing." He was the first President of the
Catholic Union of Ceylon. The Pope conferred on him the rank of
Knight Commander in the Holy Order of St. Gregory the Great.
called on me when he was about to commence his work. I encouraged
him, and I am happy that, despite great odds, he has done so well.
The book deserves to be read by those who are interested in the
development of the law. It would be read by profit by those who
might be inspired by the life and work of a man who convincingly
demonstrated that, despite the fact that a profession or occupation
is commonly regarded as 'closed', yet, by dint of dedication and
hard work, one could unlock the bolts, hurdle the bars, and enter
the sacred area appropriated to the elite.