The recent election of Shibley Aziz to the post of President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is of considerable significance.
Mr. Aziz convincingly defeated his rival, Palitha Kumarasinghe, who was openly backed by the President. Mr. Aziz’s victory is significant at a time when every institution in this country faces politicisation, and the main political discourse centres on the excessive powers vested in the executive President, under the Constitution.What we are seeing is an attempt by the government in power to control every state institution and civil organisation.
This trend towards exclusive control from the centre, leaving little or no room for dissent, is one reason for the breakdown of good governance. This is a major challenge to democracy. The BASL election is a timely message to those in power that civil society is conscious of the dangers and is prepared to raise its voice in protest.
The BASL election result is also of special significance for another reason. In the past, members of the legal profession played a leading role in protecting democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Legal professionals in colonial times played a leading role in campaigning for legal reform. They were at the forefront in the fight for independence and social reform. The legal profession was the most respected and sought after profession in the country.
The core of the political leadership in the past was drawn from the legal profession. Today, when we face a deepening crisis, largely because of a lack of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, the legal profession has a responsibility to protect and advance democracy, the rule of law and human rights.’
The BASL election turned out to be a fight for “an independent and fearless Bar”. The Bar has given its verdict. This verdict should put the legal profession back on track. This may be the beginning of an awakening in our country.