Last Tuesday, August 24,  2021, would have been the 73rd anniversary of the Call to the Bar of the late John Eardley Russel Perera (EP), President’s Counsel. To have had the opportunity of knowing and being associated with him was an immense honour and a rare privilege to someone like me, who was NOT even [...]

Sunday Times 2

A gentleman and much-sought-after trial lawyer

Eardley Perera PC

Last Tuesday, August 24,  2021, would have been the 73rd anniversary of the Call to the Bar of the late John Eardley Russel Perera (EP), President’s Counsel.

To have had the opportunity of knowing and being associated with him was an immense honour and a rare privilege to someone like me, who was NOT even an apprentice of his. The late Proctor D.C. de Silva (father of Ramani de Seram), was kind enough to retain me for the prosecution, in a case where EP was for the defence. It was at the end of that case that he got his Junior Palitha Wijetunga to call me and, (learning that I did not then have a Senior), invited me to join his chambers. That was the most crucial turning point in my career and life.

Easily the most popular leader in the history of the Sri Lankan Bar, an outstanding criminal trial lawyer, a gentleman par excellence, a loving and much loved human being, he was one who lived his life to the fullest. He was born on October 20, 1925 in Moratuwa as the third son of the late C.S.A. Perera, Proctor of the Supreme Court and Notary Public and Mrs. Perera. Though he later moved to Park Road, Colombo out of necessity, it was Moratuwa that he loved most and lived most of his life. He always remained a faithful son of Moratuwa and it is there in the cemetery of St. Joseph’s Church that his mortal remains were interred.

He was a devout Catholic as his ancestors were. While at Park Road he was a regular worshiper at St. Theresa’s Church. On his birthday before the last he made a pilgrimage to Velankanni with his family, foregoing his usual birthday bash.

It may surprise many to learn that it was at St. Bridget’s Convent, Colombo 7 that he started schooling, entitling him to call himself an “old boy” of that girls’ school. He used to, albeit mischievously, threaten my wife (who was in the Executive Committee of its PPA) that he will attend its meetings as of right. But fortunately he never tried to put it into practice. Except for the short period he spent at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo 10, the rest of his schooling was done at the nearby St. Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa, an institution which commanded his utmost loyalty all his life.

He took to the law, as the proverbial duck takes to water, entering Ceylon Law College in 1944. Besides his father, his uncles Andrew de Silva and Shelton de Silva were leading practitioners then, while his own elder brother Herman J.C. Perera enjoyed a lucrative civil practice as a proctor. For some strange reason, EP’s children called him ‘Herman Bappi’.

It was in the chambers of Nihal Gunasekara that he devilled. Before long, as a young advocate in the Criminal Bar, he was very much in demand, initially in Panadura (there was no court house in Moratuwa then), Colombo South (now called “Mount-Lavinia”) and finally in all parts of the country including Colombo. At the peak of his career, he commanded such a busy practice that it was usual for him to appear in several courts on a given day, rushing from one to another. There is probably no court in the length and breadth of this country that he had not appeared in at one time or the other.

He had a sharp analytical mind, an unparalleled mastery of facts, a photographic memory, a thorough knowledge of men and matters, excellent skills of advocacy, and an unfailing courtesy to the bench and his colleagues including opposing counsel, all of which collectively earned him success in abundance as a trial lawyer.  It was his thoroughness and meticulous preparation, coupled with his confidence in him and in God that made him appear so relaxed despite his heavy work schedule. He was a sharp lie detector of the highest calibre.

In his own words, he would “come whistling” to court. He had the mood, time and the inclination to exchange pleasantries with his colleagues and others whom he met, even on his busiest days.  These qualities naturally endeared him immensely to all and sundry in the Bar.

With his vast popularity, it was no surprise that he was pressurised by the late Dr. H.W. Jayewardene Q.C. (HWJ) and others to come forward as his successor, fearing an opponent from the left of centre elements in the Bar. But no one dared to contest him. After the demise of HWJ, Mr. Perera remained for years as the senior most Past President of the BASL. His elder brother Herman J.C. Perera was later elected to the same post, becoming up to now the only proctor to have adorned that office. They are also the only siblings to have held that prestigious post during the near half a century of the BASL history.

It was an equally foregone conclusion that he would be called upon to take Silks. It is said that he was offered the honour of being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1967, which he had declined then. He was an inevitable choice for appointment among the first batch of Silks (then designated “Senior Attorney” and later changed to “President’s Counsel”) in 1978.

His better known eminence and popularity as a lawyer may have over shadowed his sterling personal qualities of being a thorough gentleman and a wonderful human being. His boundless generosity and willingness to help others, simplicity and charm made him one of the most loved men at the Bar and in society during his lifetime. To match his razor-edged mind and stentorian voice, he also possessed a heart of pure gold. His spacious garden at No. 27, Uyana Road was full of people in need, who habitually thronged there on Sundays to receive lunch and cash distributed by his wife, with also a ‘shot’ on special occasions, such as Christmas.

To his juniors, he remained a guide, friend and eternal host. They were a privileged lot and the envy of their contemporaries. It is no wonder that they tried to imitate even the slightest of his mannerisms. He had an unusual way of walking with both his hands moving backwards with open palms. There was at least one junior who walked in the same way. He also had a strange way of holding a pen when writing, holding the pen between the bent second finger and the middle finger. This was faithfully imitated by another. He once had a limp due to a fall. It was a joke among contemporaries, that one junior who started imitating his gait had continued to have it even after Mr. Perera’s limp ceased.

Despite his extensive professional, social and business life (he was a much sought after company director and investor), he remained a “home bird”, happiest in the company of his wife and five children and in the warmth of their beautiful home. Even after their marriages, he made it a point often to invite his children and their families, and enjoyed the happiness that only an extended family could bring a grandfather. He loved his friends and relatives whose company he relished and, together with his wife, often found some excuse for showering them with their warm hospitality. Even on a normal evening it was not unusual to see him surrounded by at least a handful of his near and dear, with whom he loved to wine, dine and “yarn”, to use his own word.

Following the family tradition, three of his children Ravith, Preemali and Vijith entered Law College and qualified as Attorneys-at Law. His eldest son Charith, who resembles him most, to the extent of being a picture of EP in his young days, entered the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and became a successful cooperate leader. He spent his time also in Sri Lanka, and in 2016 he unfortunately passed away while on holiday in the Maldives. Surith, the third son, joined a multi-national company and ended up as a director. Before entering Law College Vijith, the youngest studied at the University of California, Berkeley in the US.

His granddaughter Dhanishka has had a brilliant academic legal career, obtaining an LLM from the University of Cambridge and is to proceed to the UK for her doctoral studies. Despite being the only granddaughter of such an active and successful trial lawyer, she seems to shun legal practice.

It is an age old tradition of the 166-year-old Colombo Law Library to extend the privilege of unveiling a bronze bust of a Silk who had completed 50 years at the Bar. He reached that milestone on August 24, 1998. The then Chief Justice Asoka De Silva did the honour of unveiling EP’s bust. His family surprised me by naming me to speak on their behalf, a singular privilege (with so many members of the Bar among them), that I will cherish in my memory forever.

A person of his calibre would have had a multiplicity of memorable events, which he would have never forgotten. There were at least three such special occasions, which I am sure, would have been closest to his heart. They were the felicitation dinner organised by his former juniors headed by Rienzie Arsecularatne PC., yours truly,  Kalinga Indatissa, Shantha Perera, Godfrey Cooray, Vernon Cooray etc, as far as I can remember, some years ago, the Felicitation Dinner hosted by the BASL and the “surprise party” his family organised so discreetly  for his 75th birthday.

Upali A. Gooneratne PC.


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