An exceptional professional and human being Prasanna Jayawardena The passing of Justice Prasanna Jayawardena, an eminent lawyer and judge of the Supreme Court, shocked and saddened many from all walks of life. Prasanna earned the respect not only of lawyers and his judicial colleagues, but also of others with whom he interacted. Some of his [...]




An exceptional professional and human being

Prasanna Jayawardena

The passing of Justice Prasanna Jayawardena, an eminent lawyer and judge of the Supreme Court, shocked and saddened many from all walks of life. Prasanna earned the respect not only of lawyers and his judicial colleagues, but also of others with whom he interacted. Some of his character traits, as a professional and particularly as a human being which earned him this respect, are what I wish to highlight.

As a lawyer at the unofficial Bar, quite apart from his competence, he upheld its best traditions which in bygone years had earned the profession the respect of society. As a judge of the Supreme Court he did likewise. His judgements, personal integrity and judicial temperament reminded me of some of the judges during my time and before who had been similarly endowed. He brought credit to a great institution – the Judiciary – which is one criterion by reference to which one can assess the quality of the society one lives in. It is one of the three pillars which are expected to be the custodians of good governance.

As a person the qualities he exhibited contributed to the respect people had for him, including the youth which I was privy to on one occasion. He possessed qualities associated with proper rectitude on the one hand, and on the other, those of a maverick in the sense of one who takes an independent and principled stand on issues. He could never be influenced by political or other undesirable considerations or pressures in the performance of his duties, other than the merits of the case or issue. This was coupled in appropriate places with a sense of equity. These qualities were evident also in situations outside the legal sphere.

When I came to live in the community in which he resided, I found that some of the staff too was aware of his egalitarian approach in dealing with people from different walks of life. He did not ask for or expect favourable treatment by virtue of his position as a judge. He was also imbued with a sense of humility which I along with others perceived in many instances.  He was bold and courageous as well as fair-minded in expressing his views. His appreciation of the concept of equity is one of the traits that endeared him to me. Importantly, his life was not confined to the world of the law. He had other interests and pursuits which contributed to making him a well rounded personality and thus an interesting person in social contexts. He readily extended his help to many in need. He also had an endearing sense of humour and a great capacity for enjoying life.

It was the totality of these characteristics that made him a worthy role model for youth. This was demonstrated by a group of students on an occasion when he made a certain presentation. This role was particularly important because we live in an era which is, unlike several decades ago, relatively short or barren of desirable role models. He knew how to disagree without any acrimony. On one occasion he and I disagreed on a certain matter. We began our respective presentations by giving due credit to each other and almost regretting that we differed on the issue. As he mentioned to me, that was the way that two people should disagree.

He and I had agreed that after his retirement which was not far off, we would discuss several matters which were improper for me to raise with him until then. Alas, this was not to be. His passing is a loss to the country, profession, judiciary, to friends and acquaintances and a host of others, but equally importantly to his closely-knit family and his wife, who no doubt were proud to have had him within their fold.

-Sriyan de Silva

Excellence tempered with kindness

 It is a difficult task to capture the life of such a great and accomplished man in a short tribute. However, I will endeavour to do so by attempting to channel the methodical approach that was integral to Justice Jayawardena’s approach to his judgments and work on the bench.

My first interaction with Justice Jayawardena was a phone call to set up an interview at his home. Although I adopted my most formal demeanor, I soon realized this was not a man for unnecessary formalities. When we met, we debated points of law in some of the writing I presented, and then discussed some of his recent judgments. He made it clear that he was looking for someone who was “easy-going” like he was (or as he seemed to think he was), and with whom he could have a good argument – someone who would not “roll over and surrender” at the first word from him. I appreciated, at this early point, that he was humble enough to look for a person who would potentially challenge him and expose his blind-spots. We then discussed his writing. He said his main goal was to write “pretty law”; in short – to write judgments that would be sound law and make for good reading, so that practitioners, students and the public alike might actually read them in their entirety.

From my very first day on the job, I was struck by what a deeply devout man he was. He would not leave home without prayers at a shrine. His faithful Arachchi Jagath would bring freshly plucked flowers to his chamber every day, and it was his daily routine (almost without exception) to place these flowers at a small shrine in his chamber and say prayers before he left for the bench – a ritual all too familiar to the junior judges who would wait patiently in the ante-room to his chamber until he finished.

We shared a love for wordplay, and he would enliven the courtroom with the occasional well-placed pun. He would return to the chamber after sittings and share the jokes and witticisms he had made, and his only regret was how often the courtroom – perhaps taking matters too seriously – failed to appreciate his wit. On one occasion, after relating a particularly clever bit of wordplay which involved quoting the Bard, he lamented that it was greeted by an utterly silent court! On another occasion, while refining a draft, I remarked of a particular line “But sir, doesn’t this sound like you’re making a value judgment?” to which he replied, “Of course – but I’m the judge aren’t I?” There were many such light moments in his daily routine.

That Justice Jayawardena approached his work with such good humour is not to say that he took his work lightly. On the contrary, he felt the burden of office quite heavily, constantly reminding me that we were in the Supreme Court, and that we had to strive for nothing short of perfection and excellence in everything we did. It was clear to anyone who entered his chamber that he was a perfectionist  – not a book or pen was out of place, and he would often absent-mindedly attend to an errant chair. He took this perfectionism onto the bench, ensuring that he read every brief coming up before him, studying them in even closer detail whenever he was presiding. In more high-profile cases, at which I would sit in court, his first question upon returning to his chamber was how the bench “looked” – how the judges, himself in particular, had conducted themselves before counsel. He relentlessly pursued perfection in all aspects of being a judge.

He took this same perfectionism to his approach to writing judgments. This meant many trips wheeling the trolley to the library to bring back piles of law reports and authoritative texts he had requested, which he would take home with him and pore over late into the night. In terms of the writing, this meant judgments going into fifth or sixth drafts, ensuring that every precedent was quoted exactly as in the relevant law report, and repeated attempts to tighten the language used. We would have disagreements over his writing style and use of punctuation – and while he was flexible on some points, we agreed to tolerate his idiosyncrasies in others! I once confided in him that the worst thing we could do was to finalise a judgment by Friday evening, for he was bound to return on Monday morning with further ‘final’ tweaks which he had decided to make over the weekend!

Then there were the long days and late nights at his home, when he was keen to capitalize on momentum he had built working on a draft, in order to finish it. These were fuelled by meals and snacks provided by Aunty Amala (Mrs. Jayawardena) and Banda (his faithful cook of many years), and punctuated by conversations about law and life. More than anything else, Justice Jayawardena was keen to ensure that he fulfilled his part in avoiding law’s delays by making sure his judgments went out in time. For this purpose, he maintained a book with a table of cases he had reserved for judgment, with the dates of argument and written submissions. He strove to ensure that the judgment would be handed out within a reasonable time from the date of argument. The multitude of judgments to his name in about three and a half years on the bench stand as a testament to his relentless work ethic. Even as we walked into his chamber at home on the tragic day of his passing, what should we find on his desk, but an open brief on which he had no doubt been working in the hours before being admitted to hospital?

Justice Jayawardena took a great deal of personal pride in his work, but he never let his ego or his own sense of personal legacy get in the way of justice. When dealing with an area of law in which he knew one of his brother or sister judges had more expertise, it was not uncommon for him to send them his drafts to see if he had treated the law well – this, even if they were not on the bench before which the case was argued. This humility invited other judges to share drafts with him, and he would always ensure that he promptly gave them feedback. Similarly, on several occasions, he chose to play the role of unsung hero in the greater interest of justice and the rule of law.

Justice Jayawardena was a man who was deeply devoted to those who worked for him, and this, in turn, inspired devotion from them. His Arachchi Jagath was family to him, and he would often jovially make plans to take Jagath to his family home in Anuradhapura upon his retirement. Jagath many times related with pride how Justice Jayawardena had paid him a visit to his village when he was recovering from a serious illness. Justice Jayawardena once told me that one must always take care of those who take care of you, and he set the standard by his kindness to all who surrounded him on a daily basis – from Jagath, to his driver Indika, to the police officers assigned to him. We all received gifts from him for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, and chocolates whenever he returned from foreign travel. We too were wise as to how to give him gifts – on his birthday we would stream into his chamber, wish him and gift him chocolate – a personal weakness known to many!

Amidst this busy lifestyle, he was deeply committed to his family, and would make his best effort to free himself for family events and trips. He had the ideal companion in Aunty Amala, with whom he would debate points of law in his judgments and rehearse his speeches on their morning walks. My thoughts go out to his family, who will miss the many roles he played in their lives.

I was fortunate to have worked with Justice Jayawardena for a year preceding his untimely passing, and these memories therefore represent a mere fraction of what was a full life and illustrious career. His death is a loss to the legal profession and to this country. However, he leaves behind an example for each of us to aspire to: of sacrificial service to profession and country in leaving behind a far more lucrative private practice to accept a judicial appointment; of setting the highest standards in administering justice on the bench with fierce impartiality; and above all, of kindness, gentleness and humility in his interactions with all. In death, as in life, he is now safely numbered among the “bold spirits” of whom Lord Denning spoke, and we are all fortunate to have been served by him in this fleeting life.      May he rest in peace.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            -

Sanjit Dias


 He spent most of his life preaching the Dhamma


Deshabandu Alec Robertson was a well reputed and respected personality who passed away 17 years ago. Although he was a descendent of the Eurasian community he naturalised to the Sri Lankan culture which was enriched with Buddhist philosophy.  He had learned in depth, the teachings of Lord Buddha which even many who are born Buddhists could not do. He not only learned the Buddhist philosophy but was able to explain the comprehensive concepts in simple language to lay people in his preachings.

He participated in numerous programmes including on radio and television and discussions propagating the Dhamma in its realistic form.  When there were not many learned people who could explain the principles of Buddhist philosophy in English in the country, Mr. Robertson performed a yeoman service by taking the Dhamma to the ordinary people through his voluntary service. In appreciation of his unparalleled contribution to the country, the then government appointed him as a Member of Parliament.

Alec Robertson was born in Gampola on October 30, 1928, and passed away on December 31, 2002, at the age of 74. Most of his life was dedicated mainly to disseminating the plethora of knowledge on Buddhism and spreading the Dhamma among those not only in the country but also among international communities.  He participated very actively in explaining the Dhamma through talks, discussions and writing and distributing books and articles to Buddhist journals and newspapers. He was one of the very few scholars who could translate the principles of Buddhism into English in its correct form.

According to Buddhist teachings, there are three main meritorious activities (punya karma) that should be practised mainly by lay people such as Dana (giving or generosity), Sila (morality) and Bhavana (meditation). It should be noted that dana, sila, bhavana constitute the “base” of a life of a moral person.

Dana or generosity is divided into three parts;

1.             Gift of material nature including giving of food, clothing, shelter etc.

2.             Gift of fearlessness including giving hope to others, giving mental and moral assistance when people need it.

3.             Gift of Dhamma knowledge (Dhamma Dana) including the promotion of adherence to the Five Precepts, the Four Noble Truths and imparting Dhamma knowledge so as to eschew ignorance and bring happiness among others.

Lord Buddha laid emphasis on the importance of Dhamma dana stating; Sabba danam dhammadanam jinathi, which means that “the gift of Dhamma excels all other gifts”.  The background to this was that the Lord Buddha saw the harmful situation that the world would be exposed to by widespread ignorance. Hence the Blessed One declared that giving or sharing knowledge of  the Dhamma with the people was the highest Dana that one could achieve.   It is therefore, important to note that giving the  knowledge of Dhamma is the highest meritorious activity as outlined by the Lord Buddha.

Mr. Robertson had achieved this great status by “giving Dhamma” to many through his talks, writings and discussions etc. By his Dhamma dana practices, Mr. Robertson had become a victorious personality in giving Dhamma knowledge to many other people by practising the principle of “Sabba danam Dhamma danam Jinathi”.

Many people engage in activities related to Dana or performing the functions of generosity mainly by giving material things to others. Some people help others by way of giving mental or moral assistance but only a few would be able give the Dhamma knowledge to others. This requires sound knowledge of Dhamma and hence one needs to learn and comprehend the high order principles of Dhamma as outlined by the Lord Buddha.

He had a long term vision on propagating the pure principles of Buddhism in the world.  As far back as 1990, he proposed in Parliament to declare the Tripitaka as a world heritage. Tripitaka is the traditional term for the Buddhist scriptures in which all preachings of the Lord Buddha were recorded. Although, his proposal did not materialize at that time, the Government declared the Tripitaka as a World Heritage in 2019 fulfilling the great vision of Mr. Robertson.

May he be born among us again and be able to continue his Dhamma Dana until he attains the great bliss of Nibbana.

Dr. Ariya Hewage

Her love shaped our lives

Salma Aboosally

Our mother Mrs Salma Aboosally passed away peacefully on December 22, 2019 – this note was found amongst her papers and captures the essence of her life; the importance she gave to her family. Her love shaped all our lives.

What the family means to me

I consider a family like a sturdy tree spreading out its branches, and to me although the family cannot always be together it is a source of strength, joy, to know that I have a family I can rely on in whatever form I am in, in sickness or when in trouble.

I am surrounded by my family and to know about them, their confidence and being together is what I yearn for. To know that they all love me is my reward for nurturing this closely knit family. From my personal experience it was my family that comforted me, when I thought there is no more to look forward to.

The love and the care of my family has a lot of meaning to me, especially after the demise of my husband, who left us all unaware that his end will happen soon, and this I find hard to accept

-Salma Aboosally

Sent by Roshana,
Rameeza, Nilu, Shanaz,
Laila and Sharm


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