Chief Justice K. Sripavan on Monday said that in a democratic government the power of the judiciary depends largely on its reputation for independence, integrity and wisdom. He was speaking at the ceremony to welcome him as the new Chief Justice as well as Justices Upali Abeyratne and Anil Gooneratne who have been appointed to [...]


Judiciary’s power depends on its integrity and independence: Chief Justice Sripavan

Says powers vested in the State are not to be used in a capricious and arbitrary manner

Chief Justice K. Sripavan on Monday said that in a democratic government the power of the judiciary depends largely on its reputation for independence, integrity and wisdom.

He was speaking at the ceremony to welcome him as the new Chief Justice as well as Justices Upali Abeyratne and Anil Gooneratne who have been appointed to the Supreme Court.

“The strength therefore of the judiciary entirely consists in the moral allegiance which it can evoke by the hold it has over the hearts of the people and in this respect it may be borne in mind that a good Bench means a good and efficient Bar. Both lawyers and judges ought to be conscious of the radical changes that are taking place in the fundamental aspects of law. The future holds a challenge for all members of our profession; for the law must be stable, it cannot be static. Changing times throw down new challenges and changing situations pose new problems. Since we are standing on the threshold of a momentous era in the history of our country, the work we are doing at present and will do in the future should amount to a substantial contribution in shaping the future of the country,” he said.

It is now well settled that the Rule of Law demands that powers vested in the State are not to be used in a capricious, unreasonable and arbitrary manner, the Chief Justice said.

It is not merely a right of an individual to move the Supreme Court but it is also the responsibility and the duty and obligation of the Supreme Court to enforce the fundamental rights of every citizen. Courts have no police; no Army; no power of the purse. While the administration of justice draws its legal sanction from the Constitution, its credibility rests in the faith of the people. Indispensable to that faith is the independence of the judiciary, the new Chief Justice stressed.

“Public confidence in the administration of justice is imperative to its effectiveness, because ultimately the ready acceptance of judicial verdicts gives relevance to the judicial system. We should always try to see that our courts of law should be Temples of Justice and it is our proud privilege to work together in order to make democracy of our country to be the best symbol and emblem for the whole region”, he added.

Attorney General (AG) Yuvanjana Wijeyatillake welcoming the new appellate court judges on behalf of the official Bar said that “as the dust settles on the turbulent past on Hulftsdorp Hill, I speak today not only for the Official Bar, but echo the common sentiments of all of us in this noble profession of law and the citizens of this country who look up to the law as a source of Justice. As yet another proud product of the Attorney General’s Department, it is not just for that reason that Your Lordship’s ascension to this revered office is a special occasion. It is because your Lordship’s appointment is one which has roused genuine support of those across the board from the Executive to the Official and Unofficial Bars, as well as of the general citizenry.

“Justice Sripavan, as we all know has consistently upheld the law both in its technical and equitable senses, but also without fear or favour, so that the final judicial decision has always been impeccably sound.

The AG also congratulated Justice Upali Abeyratne on his recent appointment to the Supreme Court.

Welcoming Justice Anil Gooneratne to the Suoreme Court, the AG said that his appointment was a long-awaited and well-deserved one.

“I have been acquainted with Justice Gooneratne during his long period of service in the Attorney General’s Department and I am aware of the quiet but firm temperament of His Lordship, an ideal judicial trait that has served him in the past and will no doubt continue to serve him in this next chapter of His Lordship’s judicial journey. “We can all rest assured that Justice Gooneratne will serve the Bench of the Supreme Court with the same level of integrity and commitment. I congratulate your Lordship and wish your Lordship the very best for the future,” he said.

Wishes all round: Chief Justice K. Sripavan (right) congratulates Justice Upali Abeyratne (left) as Justice Anil Gooneratne looks on. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Justice Anil Gooneratne addressing those assembled said: the Judiciary of our country enjoyed a high prestige and was the pride of every citizen. This high prestige the judges enjoyed carried with it great responsibility. The question that I have to pose is whether we enjoy that prestige and respect today? It is no doubt based and found on public opinion. The public expect from the judiciary, justice and fair play. Judges are expected to perform their duties without fear or favour, affection or ill will. It is unfortunate that the judiciary faced certain setbacks from time to time and remedial measures are welcome. It is at this point that I need to state that the role played by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka from its inception up to date has immensely helped to fortify the independence of the Judiciary. The Bar Association has a long and proud tradition of fighting many battles on behalf of the independence of the judiciary.

“Justice can be done only when the truth can be found. Experience will show that truth can be established when all material facts and arguments are laid before court. In the process if deliberate attempts are made to hide the Truth, justice is bound to suffer. No authority should be permitted to usurp the province of the judiciary. It is one thing to pretend that the independence of the judiciary needs to be preserved and quite another to behave and conduct oneself in a manner to undermine its independence and dignity,” he said.

An outstanding modern judge, Lord Bingham, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, was asked “what makes the difference between Good and Bad Government?” He answered: “the Rule of Law. The concept of the Rule of Law is not fixed for all time. Some countries do not subscribe to it fully, and some subscribe only in name. Even those who do subscribe to it find it difficult to apply all its precepts all the time. But in a world divided by differences of nationality, race, colour, religion and wealth, it is one of the unifying factors, perhaps the greatest, the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal religion. It remains an ideal but an ideal worth striving for in the interests of good government and peace, at home and in the world at large.”

“When we offer ourselves to be appointed and when appointed, may be as a judge of an original court of the Appellate Courts, to decide on the legal rights of the people, we must realise and bear in mind as long as we are called upon to perform that duty, that we are entrusted with a sacred duty originally entrusted to the Gods. That is why these court houses are called ‘Temples of Justice’ and we who sit in them are referred to as ‘My Lords’. Therefore, when we perform this sacred duty, we must be true to ourselves, true to the people who come before us and true to the Gods above us. We must never, I repeat, we must never under any circumstances allow our personal interest or future prospects to interfere or have any bearing in the performance of this sacred duty. If it is to happen, by some twist of faith or unwanted interferences it is more honourable to step aside from dispensing injustice to the people,” Justice Gooneratne said.

Justice Upali Abeyratne said that he started his judicial career as a Magistrate in January 1983 and the journey to make this speech as a judge of the Supreme Court took him 32 years.

“I am aware that exercising the final appellate jurisdiction is an enormous responsibility. The last hope of any litigant would be the Supreme Court,” he said.

The Sri Lankan legal system is known internationally for being rich and diverse. It is indeed an honour and fortune to apply the said rich laws to adjudicate disputes that arise in the country. Being a Judge of the original Courts for 23 years, I have witnessed the manner in which a decision of a Judge can influence the life of a litigant, he said.

“Being aware of that fact, as a Judge of the Supreme Court, which is the final appellate court of the Ccountry, I assure that the said rich laws will be equally applied to every citizen in order to mete out justice, uphold the rule of law and enhance the entrenched principles of Democracy,” he added.

‘”I am aware that exercising the final appellate jurisdiction is an enormous responsibility. The last hope of any litigant would be the Supreme Court. Therefore it is important that the decisions are made within the four corners of law, respecting the judicial precedent but at the same time keeping in mind the principles of equity,” he said.

Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Upul Jayasuriya welcoming the Chief Justice and Justice Anil Gooneratne to the Supreme Court Bench said a new era has begun and good men have acted wisely in appointing your Lordship as the 44th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

“The Bar extends its fullest endorsement of your Lordship as the Chief Justice of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and I take this opportunity to warmly welcome your Lordship to this coveted office.

“This country faces so many serious challenges, so many great opportunities, so many missed opportunities, so many burdensome responsibilities. Your Lordship’s Court may rest assured that the Bar will lend its unqualified support in your Lordship’s Court dispensing Justice in this land without fear or favour,” he said.

Referring to the appointment of Justice Anil Gooneratne, Mr. Jayasuriya said that he was overlooked on three occasions.

“When the rat race began and the others overtook you, you were unmoved in your resolve to remain true to yourself and to the dignity of the Judiciary. When the Bar became restless over what was happening Your Lordship must have been watching events unfold with that inscrutable smile knowing very well that Justice will be done, eventually,” Mr. Jayasuriya said.

“The judiciary stands between the citizen and the State as a bulwark against Executive excesses, misuse or abuse of power or the transgression of the statutory limitations imposed by the Legislature.

“Judicial Independence and the integrity of the Law enforcement authorities are of paramount importance to the principles of the Rule of Law.
“We must remain vigilant against the slightest encroachment on judicial independence, not because judicial independence represents some meaningless superficiality, but because without an independent judiciary the rule of law would collapse.

“My Lords, the Bar considers it fortunate that the Judiciary is heralded by your Lordship in whom we have great confidence in bringing in a change we were all longing for. We have realised that dream and reached the distant dawn. We have done it all, which credit is attributed to the people of our country whose great expectations are now in the hands of the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature. This is the miracle of Asia, he said.

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