Responses to articles written by me on law and order are many. Quite a few are by email. Replies on the phone are many.  These responses, comments and observations cover a wide area. Some are positive, others are apprehensive and negative in reaction to the articles. Admittedly, the articles have been mainly critical of the [...]

Sunday Times 2

Law and order: A bouquet after many brickbats


Responses to articles written by me on law and order are many. Quite a few are by email. Replies on the phone are many.  These responses, comments and observations cover a wide area. Some are positive, others are apprehensive and negative in reaction to the articles.

Admittedly, the articles have been mainly critical of the establishment. Law and order are a problematic issue. Unravelling the difficult nature of law and order in their many situations is an onerous task. This is because the term ‘law and order’ has, in its wide usage, both negative and positive aspects. Depicting the critical and negative aspect in law and order is, surely and relatively, easy and popular. The positive contribution of order to prosperity is, on the other hand, nearly an outlandish idea, barely spoken of.

A silver lining, however, has been spotted of late, and is gladly revealed: An exception to this rare contribution of order to prosperity is the recent enunciation by President Rajapaksa of the idea that the country’s prosperity is underwritten by law and order.

The idea of linking prosperity with order needs more elucidation. Can there be prosperity without order?  There are surely, political, economic and social aspects which cover the area of the problem raised in question. Confining the inquiry, however, to the legal aspects of the issue, only a few matters that meet the eye can be referred to in this article. The larger issues in the political, economic and social areas of the problem can be dealt with more competently by the experts’ panel selected by the President for advice.

The focus of this article is squarely from the practical experience of policing for law and order, on the ground and in the village, not in courts. Much effort had to be made in the settlement of village disputes in the name of order. That was practical exercise. The initial action, though of a law-and-order exercise, was then, in effect, a guarantee of prosperity. It was also effective and, at the same time, a promotion of prosperity between the parties, of their relatively equal standing in the face of the law and order problem. On the other hand, quality and disparity of parties did not draw down on their relative prosperity to disturb their ‘order’.  Order was thereby maintained as best as it may, with prosperity accruing to order.  This is not theory but a fact of practical experience. To put this in more conceptual form, the law and order action was embryonic of order, and so of prosperity.

Colebrooke and Robert Knox, of old, knew this. They saw it before their eyes. Cameron would not see this; he looked the other way. All this is history, and now it is back as a sporadic exercise. Can this be of some meaning to the President, or just said by him in some rudimentary articulate way? Can the experts help?

Of course, law and order for prosperity can surely be promoted by such presidential instruction. That is the way to go. Were the President to appoint a Commission of Inquiry (PCI) to give nerve and muscle to prosperity for law and order, much of the disparate thinking that has plagued the country’s law-and-order history, can now be set aright. Law and order can never be detrimental to prosperity; it can only promote prosperity. The converse is even truer. Disorder leads to penury and poverty.

In practical terms, nevertheless, promotion of law and order for prosperity can barely be amenable to judicial thinking, which for all these years yielded very little on this. Judicious experience on a practical basis, on the other hand, is far more effective than in judicial writing.

Based on the incidence of the practical basis alone, the practice grows to foster order and so to prosperity; that one instance begets the other; and that the word goes with the parties to the people. There is no need then for education, training and writing to labour a PCI.

Order through settlement of disputes at ground level outside of courts builds up with the practice to allow for prosperity. This principle is in a nascent stage.

The idea of law is equally lost to practicality. As a result, there is now only a reawakening of these lost features in current considerations. Since independence, there have been many means that may be deployed to advance this principle of settlement of disputes and problems between parties with a view to promoting prosperity through law and order than conceived of.  Examples abound in other countries. Space does not however permit the discussion of these possibilities in our current endeavour. The principle is to permit active participation of the parties to the case, to the extent feasible, with professional intervention brought into the minimum.

The idea is also that parties are more conscious of their rights than professionals. Professional intervention should only be to bring the parties together to settle their problem. The result is that they will so subscribe to law and order and look to prosperity, with little intrusion of others. In Japan for example, 90 percent of the indictable cases are dealt with out of court. This makes the difference between prosperity and penury and privation, in this area at least.

Resolution of problems and disputes at the village level is then better achieved by the intervention of elders who exude confidence and command the acquiescence of the disputants, much more efficiently than in courts. There are enough and more problems emerging from the latter process. These are well known and they need no further discussion. The idea advanced is that the means now suggested inspire confidence in the system, which is the critical factor in court process, in law and order maintenance and so of prosperity. The means envisaged in such resolution of problems is modest, the expectations are limited and the costs nil.

To the contrary, the courts process often reflects of untoward practices, of process to wear down participants and to wreak vengeance by smashing coconuts. Are all these in the same vein and strain that sometimes attends much law process? Do they inspire confidence?  No, that is not the approach to prosperity. The difference is evident.

The purpose of the PCI is, therefore, to enshrine some of these salutary principles in law process, for law and order and for prosperity in the present context, yet, within feasible limits.

The President’s call to law and order for prosperity is timely and laudable.


(The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police. He can be contacted at
TP 077 44 751 44)


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