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BASL Presidency Candidature
To be or not to be politically aligned while upholding the independence and integrity of the profession
Senior lawyers Tirantha Walaliyadde P.C. and Upul Jayasuriya. are the two major candidates contesting for the Presidency of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) at its forthcoming election next week (February 20).
The election has been necessitated due to the resignation of incumbent President Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, PC. Both Mr. Wallaliyadde and Mr. Jayasuriya have contested previously. Mr. Jayasuriya has been the Secretary of the BASL before. The Sunday Times put the same following questions to the two candidates.
Why have you decided to contest for the presidency?
Upul Jayasuriya (UJ): I had no intention of contesting. But the moment BASL President Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha decided not to go for the customary second term, I was persuaded by many senior counsel including several BASL past presidents to take his place in view of what the Bar has undergone in the recent past, especially with regard to the intervention by the Executive and the Legislature on the Judiciary. This is a time to elect a leader for the Bar to carry forward the ideals that we stand for. I have met BASL members in their respective court houses throughout the country and impressed upon them my hopes, and I have their support. I don’t need to have Government Ministers sponsoring dinners for lawyers at tax payers expense in support of my candidacy.
Tirantha Walaliyadde (TW): I have never dabbled in politics, nor am I a member of any party. However, I have a working relationship with the government and the opposition, which is essential for the rebuilding of the BASL. If not, the BASL will be like an orphan. If the BASL President cannot get an appointment with the President and with the Leader of the Opposition, the BASL will end up on the pavement. The BASL must be involved in legislation by advising the government and the opposition of the necessity for amendments to current laws, introduce new laws where necessary, and abrogate unnecessary and counterproductive laws. I have already met with the President and the Leader of the Opposition regarding these issues, and both requested me to forward our proposals. Both invited me to keep them informed of problems faced by the BASL, which they would look into and help resolve.
What is your campaign theme?
UJ: Be strong, act with finesse and vote for a strong president who could independently implement the wishes of the Bar, to maintain the dignity of the legal profession and the independence of the judiciary.
TW: Protect the rights of lawyers and the independence of the judiciary, and uphold the Rule of Law.
The BASL came under criticism for not being forceful enough during the recent impeachment and the constitutional crisis. Do you agree with that notion? And why so or why not?
UJ: Yes, that was the general view of the Bar. Despite curtailment of my movements by threats to my life, I have visited 50 Bar associations and met more than 5,000 lawyers who expressed similar views.
TW: Yes. Force has many colours. This whole affair could have been handled in a diplomatic way, without confrontation, by giving proper advice to both parties..
It was seen that the BASL could not gather the support of other trade unions, in their fight against the impeachment motion, as well as the independence of the judiciary and deterioration of the rule of law within the country. Was there a general apathy towards the legal profession. Do you agree with that notion? What would you propose to do to strengthen cooperation with other professional bodies and trade unions and win the support of the people to your struggles?
UJ: There was a setback because the BASL did not have senior members in the executive committee. I would like to appeal to the new Bar Council to appoint very senior lawyers to the executive committee.
TW: There should be more interaction between the BASL and the OPA and related organisations.
If elected, which Chief Justice (CJ) would you recognise, CJ 43 Dr. Shirani Banadaranayake or CJ 44 Mohan Pieris P.C.?
UJ: There is a de-jure CJ and a de-facto CJ. The motion tabled in Parliament, was expected to recommend to the President, to remove CJ Bandaranayake according to the Constitution. However, what transpired was a motion to appoint a Select Committee to probe the charges against the CJ. Without Parliamentary approval of such a motion recommending the removal of the CJ, the President does not have the power to remove the CJ.
TW: CJ Mohan Peiris P.C.
Recently, Appeal Court President Justice Sri Skandarajah declined to hear contempt proceedings against Minister Rishard Bathiudeen. Lawyers’ were of the view that this was due to political pressure. Are you concerned? What would you do, if elected, to safeguard the independence of Judges?
UJ: It appears that he has been made to take this decision, after he took up this matter originally and issued summons on the Minister concerned. This is a matter of very serious concern to the Bar. It should be a matter of very serious concern. The BASL should take up these matters with the Judges and the other powers that be. A dialogue with the Judicial Officers Association on such matters is also very important.
TW: Lawyers interpret matters in a myriad of ways. If this interpretation is correct, then it is a matter for serious concern. The independence of the judiciary can be protected by interaction between the BASL and the judiciary. Lack of communication always leads to confusion.
The following persons proposed and seconded the names of the two Presidential candidates.
Tirantha Walaliyadde PC: Messrs. Razik Zarook, PC, W. Dayaratne, PC, Anton Senanayake and Bandula Vellalage (proposed), B. Manawadu and Shantha Herath (seconded).
Upul Jayasuriya: Messrs. Romesh de Silva PC, Ananda Wijesekera PC, Upali Gooneratne PC, and Ikram Mohamed PC (proposed), Shanki Parathalingam PC and Rohan Sahabandu PC (seconded)
R.R. Thiagarajah, a senior lawyer is also contesting for the Presidency, for the seventh time.
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