An earnest plea from a single powerful voice to a distinguished gathering from a different profession, most probably during a gala event with champagne flowing and a spread of delectable food! Link up, was the plea from none other than the highest legal luminary in the land, then Chief Justice (CJ) Sir Sidney Abrahams, of [...]


Sealing a marriage of importance in pen and ink 80 years ago

As Sri Lanka’s Medico-Legal Society marks a milestone, Dr. M.S.L. Salgado, who along with retired Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) S.B.W. de Silva was honoured for his long-standing contribution, goes back in time

Then CJ Sir Sidney Abrahams had signed off the minutes on February 24, 1938. Pix by Sameera Weerasekera

An earnest plea from a single powerful voice to a distinguished gathering from a different profession, most probably during a gala event with champagne flowing and a spread of delectable food!

Link up, was the plea from none other than the highest legal luminary in the land, then Chief Justice (CJ) Sir Sidney Abrahams, of the Bracegirdl trial fame, to the Ceylon Branch of the British Medical Association. The event was the 50th anniversary of the association a few years before 1937.

Fast forward to December 9, 1937 and the plea is fulfilled with the inaugural meeting for the formation of the Medico-Legal Society (MLS) of Ceylon being held at the Law Library at Hulftsdorp, the seat of justice……, fast forward to December 7, 2017 and the celebrations were the 80th anniversary of the MLS of Sri Lanka headed by its President, the current CJ Priyasath Dep, PC.

The notice inviting lawyers to attend the inaugural meeting of the MLS in 1937 was put up in the Law Library, says long-time member, Senior Consultant Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) Dr. M.S.L. Salgado, seated before tomes, at the dining table in his home down Melbourne Avenue in Bambalapitiya.

The 80th anniversary celebrations are over and Dr. Salgado along with retired Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) S.B.W. de Silva have been honoured with plaques for being members of the MLS for more than half a century as well as Presidents who have contributed much towards the advancement of the society.

It is a journey into the past as Dr. Salgado literally turns back the pages of time of the Minutes’ Books to give us a glimpse of the early days of the MLS from the huge books that he has tenderly preserved.

From the very first meeting at the Law Library meticulous are the records, handwritten in pen and ink, legible even to this day. All in all, 80 lawyers and doctors, men of eminence, had been present by invitation, with Lalitha Rajapakse, QC (he would be knighted later) acting as pro tem (temporary) Secretary and placing his signature to the minutes of the evening’s proceedings. The books list all the members present, and as time passes by and the MLS grows, the minutes and participants are scrupulously typed on paper and pasted onto the books after each meeting.

“There are two phases to the life of MLS,” says Dr. Salgado with its history at his fingertips.

The first phase which ended in 1940, came into being on Thursday, December 9, 1937 with Sir Sidney, in his inaugural address, not only expressing personal gratification but also paying tribute to the intellectual and academic qualities of the two professions.

Set up in the wake of a similar society in England, formed 36 years before, the CJ had pointed out its value in discussions on medical jurisprudence and in the better training of the two professions in each other’s science.

“It is eminently desirable that medical men should know how to give evidence and it is equally necessary that counsel should have to ask questions precisely and to the point,” he had said, bringing to the fore questions of insanity, the position of wounds, handwriting and fingerprints.

He had also lamented that in a country as advanced as Ceylon, proper scientific apparatus was not available to the analyst to distinguish mammalian blood from human blood.

Urging the MLS to secure different homes for those ‘ordinarily insane’ and the ‘insane who were convicted of crimes’, the CJ had concluded his speech to much applause.

Long service plaques being presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Dr. M.S. L. Salgoda (above) and retired Police Officer S.B.W. de Silva (below) at the 80th anniversary celebrations

The business of the day followed thereafter, with Attorney General J.W.R. Illangakoon, KC proposing the formation of the MLS, seconded by the Director of Medical and Sanitary Services  Dr. S.T. Gunasekera. Then Advocate C.V. Ranawake had proposed and H.V. Perera, KC had seconded a motion that a sub-committee comprising Mr. Illangakoon, handwriting expert Lawrie Muthukrishna, Dr. J.R. Blaze, Dr. N. Sinnadurai and Sir Lalitha should be appointed to draft the Constitution and the Rules of the MLS. These minutes had subsequently been confirmed on February 24, 1938, when the first General Meeting was held once again at the Law Library, with Sir Sidney being elected the first President of the newly-formed MLS.

The very first Office Bearers were powerful figures in their fields with many letters behind their names: Vice Presidents – Attorney-General Illangakoon & Medical and Sanitary Services Director Dr. Gunasekera; Secretary –   Dr. E.M. Wijerama; Treasurer — Prof. Milroy Paul; Editor of Transactions –   Dr. J. R. Blaze; and Council Members — Dr. A.O. Gunawardena, Advocate  Ranawake, Dr. W.S. Ratnavale, Dr. N. Attygalle, Barrister-at-law H. Sri Nissanka & Mr. Muthukrishna.

With the annual subscription being set at Rs. 10, most probably a princely sum then, the ‘objects’ of the MLS were set down as — The recognition of medicine and other allied sciences in the administration of justice; the promotion and dissemination of medico-legal knowledge in all its aspects; the holding of meetings, seminars and symposia at which papers may be read and discussed for the furtherance of the aforesaid objects of the society; and the enrolment of qualified members of the legal and medical professions and such other persons who may be interested in medico-legal work.

The MLS, thereafter, got into full swing with the First Council Meeting being called at the Official Residence of the Chief Justice on June 10, 1938, with Sir Sydney in the Chair and eight members present. The decisions were that the MLS would meet every quarter or on the last Friday of February, May and November at 6.30 p.m., with the meetings alternating between the Law Library at Hulftsdorp and the Colonial Medical Library on Maradana Road, Borella.

The General Meetings followed without interruption as also the pre-decided interesting lectures entailing intense discussions on wide-ranging topics which included ‘The Evolution of Medico-Legal Science’ by the JMO of Ceylon Dr. N. Sinnadurai; ‘Some Mutual Problems’ by the District Judge of Colombo Dr. R.F. Dias; ‘Medical Witness and Court of Law’ by Senior Surgeon Dr. S.C. Paul; ‘Expert Witness’ by J. E. M. Obeysekera; ‘Criminological Aspects of Alcoholism’ by the Superintendent of the Mental Hospital Dr. C.O. Perera; ‘Workman’s Compensation’ by S.J.C. Shockman; ‘Some Problems on Handwriting Evidence’ by Lawrie Muthukrishna; and ‘Sir Bernard Spilsbury in the Witness Box’ by R.R. Crossette-Thambiah.

Interesting details of those early days stare at us from the Minutes’ Books about a decision to invite journalists from the Ceylon Daily News, the Times and the Observer as guests of MLS, a letter by Mr. Sri Nissanka on ‘The Strange Case of Apooruwa’ being read and the medico-legal bearings of the case discussed, the services of a typist being secured at Rs. 5 per meeting and elaborate plans for the first Annual Dinner at the Galle Face Hotel to which Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott, Lady Caldecott and their daughter were invited as chief guests.

However, an unseen factor came into play, putting into abeyance the activities of the MLS. World War II!

Dr. Salgado says that while at the AGM on February 26, 1940, then CJ J.C. Howard was elected President, the activities ground to a halt with the last meeting of the MLS being held on November 1, the same year.

The MLS which went into hibernation was revived only 29 years later on February 8, 1966 due to the unwavering efforts of Prof. Milroy Paul, its Founder Treasurer.

The second phase, according to Dr. Salgado, took off with CJ M.C. Sansoni being elected President and 99 people attending the meeting, only two of whom are active to this day. Those two stalwarts are Dr. Salgado and Mr. de Silva who were honoured for their long service.

The MLS has also undergone much metamorphosis, with the olden tradition of the CJ being the President being done away with when Prof. Milroy Paul was elected to take up the mantle. The eligibility criteria has changed as well with an amendment to the MLS Constitution in 1969 to enable gazetted officers of the Ceylon Police Force and Staff Officers of the Government Analyst’s Department to be taken in, while law and medical students could become members without voting rights.

It was in 1972 that the MLS was taken to different heights, with the return of Dr. Salgado from the United Kingdom after his post-graduate studies, to assume duties as a Joint Secretary of the society.

Some significant achievements of the early 1970s included nominating six members of the MLS to the Board of Studies in Forensic Medicine, recommending the repeal and replacement of Section 311 (dealing with grievous hurt) of the Penal Code, drawing up of a new Medico-Legal Examination Form to replace the General Hospital Ticket issued by the Police and recommending the Medico-Legal Report Form and Post Mortem Report Form which have been brought into use.

Around the same time, another amendment was brought in to elect as Honorary Life Members those who had rendered special service to the MLS or distinguished themselves in law, medicine or allied sciences, with this honour being bestowed on Prof. Milroy Paul and Dr. E.M. Wijerama. President J.R. Jayewardene, a Founder-Member of MLS would later join this elite category.

With MLS growing in leaps and bounds, the Dr. W.D.L. Fernando Memorial Oration was initiated in 1981, with Prof. Chandra Amarasekera speaking ‘On the Life and Work of Dr. Fernando’ and the Medico-Legal Society Oration in 1992, with judge of international fame Prof. C.G. Weeramantry speaking on ‘Medicine, Morality and Law’.

By 1986, the MSL was declared an approved charity, while also gaining recognition internationally by hosting in Sri Lanka the Second Indo-Pacific Congress on Legal Medicine and Forensic Science and inaugurating the Indo-Pacific Association of Law, Medicine and Science (INPALMS).

With the backing of the MLS membership, Dr. Salgado helped draft the Constitution of INPALMS.

“The congress was inaugurated by President Jayewardene at the BMICH on August 14 and attended by 122 foreign delegates from 37 countries,” says Dr. Salgado who chaired it as MLS President, adding that it was a landmark event which put Sri Lanka on the world map.

The golden jubilee of the MLS in 1987, meanwhile, saw much activity including a Medico-Legal Exhibition organized under the stewardship of its President Daya Perera PC, with the chief guest at the gala dinner once again being President Jayewardene and the Dr. W.D.L. Fernando Memorial Oration on ‘Circumstantial Evidence’ being delivered by Dr. Colvin R. de Silva.

The Scientific Sessions with Justice Minister Nissanka Wijeyaratne as chief guest witnessed a galaxy of powerful orators including National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and Health Minister Dr. Ranjith Atapattu, taking to the podium.

Since its birth 80 long years ago, the MLS has moved from strength to strength adding more milestones to its colourful history including the holding of the INPALMS Triennial Congress – 2007 once again in Colombo in July to much plaudits and also electing Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane as its first woman President to steer the MLS during its 75th anniversary.

As the MLS faces the future this year with CJ Priyasath Dep, PC, at its helm, exciting horizons open up for this ‘octogenarian’ society in this digital age.

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