Legendary lawyer who raised the bar for his profession


It is hard to believe that a quarter of a century has elapsed since the sudden and untimely death of Ainsley Clive De Zoysa (better known as “Bunty”). To us juniors of the time, Bunty seemed immortal. We could not conceive of a Hulftsdorp without him. Yet, so it is, and has been for exactly 25 years.

I had the privilege of knowing Bunty in four capacities: as a family friend; as my supervising officer in the Attorney General’s Department; as an awesome opponent after his retirement from that department and finally as my senior counsel in the Unofficial Bar. When I hark back to the days when Bunty was among us (which seems like yesterday), I am deluged by nostalgic memories.

Bunty De Zoysa was a many-faceted character, the likes of whom Hulftsdorp will not, alas, have the fortune of knowing again. As a friend, he was loyal to the core, and followed to the letter the sage advice of Polonius to Laertes (in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’): “Those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy heart with hoops of steel.”

Both as a man and as a lawyer, he feared no man; and to him, no one was too “big” to “take on” or too “small” to fight for. He never “demanded” respect, as many do today: he “commanded” it from all who came into contact with him. At the Bar, he was a true professional, and not a businessman in the garb of a professional. Many are the fortunate litigants who received his services free of charge, where the cause was right.

Bunty was a criminal lawyer of rare distinction, equally at home in the original as well as in the appellate courts. As a senior counsel, juniors were to him not mere subordinates to be ordered around and used as glorified porters to carry his books around, as some do today. To him, his juniors were friends and colleagues who were “juniors” only because they happened to have been born after him. He strove to instil in them self-confidence, and develop them so they could stand on their own feet.

Anecdotes about Bunty De Zoysa are legion: many of these stories were already part of the folklore of the Attorney General’s Department when I joined it 39 years ago. No appreciation of Bunty De Zoysa would be complete without mention of a few such anecdotes.

I have selected three stories to illustrate the endearing qualities of this unique person; one relates to the Attorney General’s Department and the other two are drawn from my personal experience.

“E” files were the bane of officers of the criminal branch of the Attorney General’s Department. These were civil advice files containing requests for advice from various government departments, and quite a few of these were about the disbursement of sums of money. While a public servant could be surcharged in respect of a sum of money disbursed by him, if he had done so erroneously, even if he had acted perfectly bona fide, he could not be surcharged if such a disbursement was made with the advice of the Attorney General’s Department.

One such file allocated to Bunty De Zoysa related to the payment of some Rs. 40. Although the amount was relatively small, the resolution of the legal question involved was complicated, and Bunty had no inclination to do research into abstruse questions of civil law, which bored him stiff. With characteristic originality, he did no research and wrote no report. Instead, he summoned the public servant concerned, gave him the Rs. 40 out of his own funds, and advised him to make the payment!

I was prosecuting at the Negombo Assizes, and Bunty was my supervising officer. In the middle of a complicated case that was going badly for the Crown, there arose a decision I had to take, and take immediately, but could not take because there was a circular stating that such a decision could be taken only with the prior approval of the Attorney General himself. In those days there was no direct dialling from Negombo to Colombo. I made a trunk call to Bunty and explained the situation. Never will I forget his response: “You are the man on the spot, you make the decision.”

I then reminded him of the circular. His response to this was even more unforgettable: “To hell with the circular. It is impractical. Take what decision you see fit and make a minute on the file saying that I authorised you to take that decision. I will take the responsibility. If you are wrong, I will tell you where you went wrong when you return to Colombo. Hereafter, never telephone me, but take what decision you see fit, and make a minute saying that I authorised it.”

Thereafter, I always made my own decisions, and never made a minute “passing the buck” to Bunty. This was one example of how Bunty developed self-confidence in his juniors. He taught us to think for ourselves and make our own decisions, while “sticking his own neck out” to do so.

The last anecdote concerns a brush with a judge. Bunty was leading me for an accused party in a long and complicated jury trial that lasted about three-and-a-half months, with daily hearings. Bunty addressed the jury. It was clearly a Herculean task to marshal and present the massive volume of evidence adduced over so long a period, but Bunty succeeded, and he earned the rapt attention of the jury. In the course of his address, the judge cracked what was, in his perception, a joke, and the spell woven by Bunty’s eloquence was broken. He did not explode, as I had expected him to. Instead, he stood erect and stock-still, and looked straight at the judge without so much as blinking, until the judge stopped laughing.

The judge then said, “Yes, Mr De Zoysa?”, indicating that he should resume his address to the jury. Bunty then broke his silence: he said in measured tones: “That, was a good one, sir, a good one”, and then he repeated: “a good, good, good, good, good, good one, sir”, the tempo of his words, accompanied by taps on the Bar table, increasing with every “good”. Bunty then lowered his voice, resumed his measured tone, and said: “In short, a good one sir. Now, may I resume?”

Never again was Bunty interrupted, although his address lasted another two to three full days.
Bunty is gone, and we will never see the likes of him again. We are all the poorer for his death. At least those, such as myself, who were privileged to have known him have a rich store of memories that help, to some extent, to relieve the ever-present and mounting frustrations of Hulftsdorp. I pity, from the bottom of my heart, those who had not that privilege, or such memories.

S. L. Gunasekara

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
Other Plus Articles
Tea and care
Stop soil erosion before it is too late - Letters to the Editor
Here we go into a world of magical images - Letters to the Editor
Thank you for the care and efficiency - Letters to the Editor
Legendary lawyer who raised the bar for his profession - Appreciations
A fearless champion of justice and loyal friend - Appreciations
To Sir with love - Appreciations
Horrible scream in the dead of night
Finding Mozart in the jungles of Sri Lanka
Broadway! Here they come with top hat and all
We want more Pera!
Hear the roar of Lion City
Photography and archaeology: Going back in time
Clare’s school brings to life Tom’s magical world
People and events
Cookery garnished with opah dupa


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 2008 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved.| Site best viewed in IE ver 6.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution