Lawyers defied an order on Friday from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) president W. Dayaratna to hand over the keys to the Hulftsdorp lawyer’s complex, ahead of a visit to the area by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The President is due to lay the foundation stone for a seven-storey complex on November 2. Members of the President’s Security Division visited the premises this week as part of a routine security check.
The lawyers’ said they were concerned about the safety of confidential legal documents entrusted to them.
“We had no issues when the President’s security personnel searched the offices and sealed the rooms for security reasons,” said one lawyer who wished to remain anonymous. “However, we cannot be expected to hand over the keys to the building because our offices contain confidential documents belonging to our clients.” The lawyer added that on several previous occasions the Bar Association president had compelled senior lawyers to hand over the keys to their offices.
“The President’s security team was not interested in the keys, and they didn’t even ask about the keys,” the lawyer said. “We had no objections to their searching our offices.”
Another lawyer claimed that the Bar Association president had “threatened” her when she stressed the importance of the lawyers keeping the keys to their offices.
“We are looking after vital, confidential documents. The Bar Association president has no right to demand that we hand over the keys. That would go against lawyers’ rights,” she said.
“We would have no problem if the whole building was sealed off, but it is not appropriate to ask us to surrender the keys.”
The lawyers’ complex on St. Sebastian Hill, Hulftsdorp, accommodates the offices of between 300 and 400 lawyers. Lawyers will have no access to the complex until after the President’s visit on Tuesday.
Bar Association president Mr. Dayaratne told the Sunday Times that the order to hand over the keys was later withdrawn after the President’s Security Division had made it clear that they only wanted to search the complex, including the offices in the building.
“Several lawyers who are appearing in cases against the government were reluctant to hand over their keys,” Mr. Dayaratne said. “The President’s security personnel checked all the offices and left labels on the doors of each office. They said the lawyers are free to enter their offices in the next few days. But if they do so, security personnel would have to search the offices again and stick on labels to say the rooms have been checked once more.”