against the legal profession?
We have been sitting pretty talking of our personal honour
and integrity as if the profession is devoid of such people, when
many agencies are carrying out an open campaign against the very principles
that the profession strives to protect. Last year and the year before
we found people picketing and protesting against the lawyers who appeared
and defended persons accused of murder. The media, the talk shows
clearly exhibited the anger being directed at the legal profession.
How can any human being defend a person who had committed such a heinous
crime. 'Kill the lawyers' was the veritable adage that seem to guide
the spirits of the leaders who lead the herd. We have not said a thing,
we have not strived to educate these morons of the shallow arguments
they concoct to become heroes of the ill educated herd. These are
the same arguments that led to the ethnic riots in Sri Lanka. Kill,
burn and loot seem to be the guiding factor that his fed into the
hollow craniums of these bigots. This column has repeatedly taken
these issues. When even some lawyers driven by the myopic jingoism
demonstrated against a brother lawyer who appeared on behalf of the
suspects in the Rita John case, this column without any reservation
condemned such cheap pyrotechnics.
Today we are
facing difficulties and challenges hitherto unknown in the past
few years. There is a concentrated attack on the profession by various
agencies trying to besmirch the image of the profession.
Only a few weeks
ago I reiterated the fact the if the present Bill to amend the Bail
act became law, the first casualties would be lawyers. One may ponder
whether the rationale behind this statement is pecuniary. As the
Magistrates Court would not have much work, as it would act as post
box in remanding people for the most trivial offences, and that
lawyers would be no use, no it is much more serious than that. When
the proposed amendments to the Bail act are effected it would make
casualties of those lawyers who have continuously upheld the rights
of the people and had appeared almost voluntarily in cell death
cases and continue to appear against the police in Fundamental Rights
cases and Habeas Corpus cases. They would be framed. Any agency
would require only two false statements to remand a lawyer, as the
magistrate will not have any mechanism to probe into such a complaint.
I never thought
before the ink dried on the paper on which I wrote those warnings
it would happen. Only the Kegalle Bar Association saw the warnings
and passed a resolution objecting to the draconian provisions. Others
remained silent. The Ratnapura Bar would never have thought that
this would happen at their door steps.
A man named
'Kapila alias Kondaya' was involved in a gem robbery. After the
robbery the value of the gems rose from two million to about 60
million rupees. Kapila surreptitiously went to the office of a leading
lady lawyer from the Ratnapura Bar. His intention was to surrender
to court. He knew that if he was taken to custody by the police,
they would make mince meat of him. Powerful gem merchants were behind
the police. He could not find the fee demanded by the police. He
went away in search of money. Few days later his mother met the
lady lawyer and paid the balance fee. The accused did not accompany
the mother as he was being followed by the police. In fact a few
gem merchants had their many new vehicles at the disposal of the
police to track the offender. The lady lawyer's husband was a popular
politician in the area and had been the opposition leader of the
provincial council. Many other politicians who opposed from the
same party to unseat him and obtain various positions from the party
hierarchy started a campaign of deadly vilification. The media was
quick to publish stories on the information received by the police.
The story was planted that the lady lawyer and the politician were
harbouring the accused. The web of deceit spread like a gaping hole
in the stratosphere. What was the fate of the lawyer who had been
in practice for the last two decades. The whole world seemed to
crumble before her. Such was the publicity blitz that portrayed
her as a woman who would go to the extent of harbouring dangerous
criminals for a fee. Few friends at the Bar comforted her.
Later the accused,
known as 'Kondaya' who found it impossible to contact his lawyer
as the police surveillance was too hot to beat went in search of
another lawyer from another bar close to Ratnapura. The lawyer from
the Avissawella Bar was careful to take a statement from the accused
in the form of an Affidavit. There he disclosed that there was a
threat to his life and his wife had been arrested and the police
have threatened the workers of his restaurant.
knew that he had a mistress who was making a living by selling drugs.
The police followed her and arrested her. From the mistress the
police recovered the gems. There are conflicting reports about the
recovery. It was heard that the entire parcel of gems was recovered
from her. She has pointed out the place where they had buried the
from Avissawella accompanied the accused and drove his vehicle to
Ratnapura Magistrate Court. As the watcher opened the gate and the
vehicle entered the court premises three or four persons forcibly
opened the door of the vehicle and dragged out the suspect from
the vehicle. The lawyer got down from his vehicle and tried to pull
his client back, when a muscled man appeared and got into the van
and reversed the van out of the gate premises. This was to show
that the man-grab took place outside the jurisdiction of the Ratnapura
Magistrate. He happened to be a policeman in plain clothes. Then
the lawyer had no alternative but to appeal to the policeman on
duty for help. He stated that his intentions were to produce him
before the Magistrate. It was of no avail. The policeman on duty
joined the party and began kicking and assaulting the accused in
the presence of the crowd. A Benz appeared from nowhere: the accused
was then abducted and taken away from the custody of the lawyer.
went to court. The court had adjourned. He complained to the Magistrate.
The Magistrate inquired whether the accused was in police custody.
The police confirmed it. Then he ordered the police to produce him
forthwith or the latest at 2pm. The police simply ignored the instructions.
The accused was finally brought to court the next day.
Then came the
surprise. The police forwarded a confidential report supposed to
be the confession of the accused and his mistress stating that the
most expensive gem was taken by the lady lawyer. There was enough
and more evidence to show that the accused made this statement under
torture and it was done to coerce the legal fraternity from taking
any overt action against the police for having abducted the accused
from the custody of his lawyer and within the premises of the Magistrate
court, an act which could be termed as contempt of the authority
of the court.
who rendered a professional service to his client is under a cloud
of suspicion being virtually treated as an accused who had taken
stolen property from the accused. When the accused's mistress was
arrested the media reported that all the gems had been recovered.
They also informed a very senior lawyer from the Ratnapura Bar that
all the gems had been recovered and the next step was to prosecute
the accused in court. But the police brought the newscasters from
Rupavahini and showed the sealed jar which contained the gems where
the stone allegedly missing was clearly seen by thousands watching
the Rupavahini news. This was before the police could concoct a
story about a missing gem and suppress the truth of abduction.
This is a lesson
to those who advocate about the pristine values of the amendment
to the bail act and the police commission. No one would be safe.
Politicians of the opposition and lawyers would be the first casualties.
We have defended the judiciary in this column, because it is only
the judges who will be able to analyze any situation and decide
on the merits of the case without any fear. I remember when Vijaya
Kumaratunga was produced before the Pugoda Magistrate, the SSP of
the area met the Magistrate in Chambers and pleaded with him to
remand Mr. Kumaratunga as his job was at stake if he failed to obtain
a remand order. But the judge listened to the arguments of both
the prosecution and the accused and decided to release him on bail.
That was discretion that was vested with the Magistrates who were
independent and steadfastly upheld the rule of law. But if this
discretion were taken away by a wild piece of legislation any one
who supports that will be cursed as the father of the oppressor
of the liberty of the subject.