Bring violence to justice
Whither safety of judges, lawyers, litigants in courts?
By Chris Kamalendran
An alarming rise in violence in courthouses has placed a big question mark over the administration of justice and the security of judges, litigants and others visitors to courts.

In the past two years, as many as 11 incidents of violence targeting courthouses and judges have been reported with the slaying of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya and his police security officer in November last year being the most shocking.

This week, violence struck the Embilipitiya Magistrate's Courts when a grenade was thrown at notorious underworld figure Sujith Wasantha Kumara alias Army Suranga, an alleged extortionist. Three people were killed and more than 30 others, including litigants, were injured in the attack.

Magistrate Amaratunga, who escaped unhurt though he was just ten feet away from the blast, told The Sunday Times Suranga was returning to the cell after his case was heard, when the explosion took place.

"More than 50 suspects were in the cell while about 500 people were in an around the courthouse when it happened. I feel the security provided was inadequate because there were 19 hardcore criminals inside the cell," the magistrate said.

According to the magistrate, security measures have since been intensified. But, making ad hoc security arrangements always appear to be the case whenever courthouses and judges are attacked.

Lawyers and litigants say past incidents such as the Gangodawila court blast, the killings of suspects in Colombo courts and the arson attacks on courthouses in Avissawella, Wattala and Matugama have failed to galvanize the authorities into action and provide adequate security.

The arson attacks on courthouses have destroyed files related to more than 30,000 cases. In another case, an intruder had tried to molest a female judge in spite of a police guard at her residence.

After the killing of Judge Ambepitiya, the Special Task Force has been tasked with providing security to senior judges. However, STF Chief Nimal Leuke says the task of providing all the judges with STF security is not possible because of a dearth of personnel. At present, 14 STF personnel are providing security to a few judges in the Western Province while about 100 STF officers are being trained for this purpose.

Lawyers, litigants and witnesses say that if the government does not provide adequate security and make courthouses safe for them, the administration of justice will be under threat.

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