Tribute to a great lawyer, patriot and gentleman

E. D. Wikramanayake

When she was at the pinnacle of power, former President Chandrika Kumaranatunga invited a small group of distinguished lawyers to dinner before presenting her disastrous “package” to the nation. Among those present was E. D. Wikramanayake, better known as “ED”, who had appeared so caringly for her mother, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, when she was out of power.

Yet when we were looking for someone to chair a public meeting at the YMBA to protest against President Chandrika Kumaranatunga’s package, ED accepted the honour, because he knew the harm that would befall the country.

ED was a patriot who did not care for posts or positions. Many who sat to dinner at the President’s table accepted benefits under the Kumaranatunga government and then blamed her after her departure from politics. ED never uttered a word against her. He was a gentleman; he had finesse, grace and elegance. He was both a true patriot and true gentleman.

ED was tall and erect, in every sense. In the Attorney General’s Department he pioneered the corporation sector work, and those who worked with him formed a club that hero-worshipped him. In the private Bar, we remember ED as a fearless fighter who cared only for the cause he fought for, and he fought it crisp and clean.

While in the AG’s office, ED was put in charge of a prosecution file that featured the name of the late Lalith Athulathmudali. As soon as the government changed, the UNP administration framed charges against ED for carrying out the assignment entrusted to him. ED resigned from the department, rather than be trampled by political head-hunters. Like his father, a former UNP Justice Minister and an eminent Queen’s Counsel, ED dared go where others feared to tread.

In the glory days of J. R. Jayewardene, it was sheer fun to take on the President in court in the company of H. L de Silva and E. D Wickramanayake, with V.W Kuleratne as the instructing attorney. Those were days when thugs stoned Supreme Court judges’ houses and the President padlocked their offices. Many Supreme Court judges were sacked with the change of the Constitution. We formed a quad, and most of the battles were launched before Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, who was J. R. Jayewardene’s counting agent at his election campaign.

The great Chief Justice Samarakoon stepped from politics to the Bench but never carried politics to the Bench. He fearlessly gave orders against the very government that appointed him from the private Bar. In living memory, he is the only Chief Justice who was given a dinner by the Bar when he gracefully stepped down from the Bench, probably because he treated the Bar with respect. HL, ED and I knew that even if we fought the President, we would get justice and a proper hearing before such a judge. The Chief Justice told him, remembering his late father: “We must have back-to-back silks”; but ED would never accept the title of President’s Counsel, although his practice and tax return warranted it.

The same quad appeared for Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike when the J. R Jayewardene government filed a case depriving her of her civic rights. To our surprise, our client brought Queen’s Counsel Nadesan to lead the team. Mr. Nadesan said that ED must be dropped from the team if he was to appear. It transpired that ED had made mincemeat of Nadesan when he opposed him in the Criminal Justice Commission in cases of foreign exchange violations. Given the choice, Mrs. Bandaranaike, ably assisted by V. W. Kuleratne, showed QC Nadesan the door.

ED was an outdoors man, outstanding with gun and rod. He piloted an aircraft and rafted down the Kelani Valley. It was a cruel blow that he was crippled and confined to a wheelchair because of a medical misadventure. Nevertheless, he joined us for a holiday, driving a modified vehicle, with his wife Sunethra as co-driver, negotiating the hairpin bends on the road to Poonagalle, the estate roads to the Fishing Hut in Maskeliya, and the rugged countryside to Bogawantalawa.

To hear him reminisce in the evenings about his adventures in the outdoors was as exciting as listening to his tales about life on Hulftsdorf Hill. His stories were studded with wit and wisdom, and as precise and concise as his cross examinations and written submissions.

ED had no airs and pretences. He loved the country and the earth- he lived on, and died a simple man. Those who knew him knew his true worth.

Gomin Dayasri

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