Letters to the Editor

13th April 1997

Travesty of justice in the Middle Ages

The legal feature on “Brothers- in - law and the Attorney - General “ you published on 30.03 reads like the work of a writer who has lately been busy at the “bar”. He refers to the prosecution of Sir Walter Raleigh as an ‘example of the travesty of justice during the Middle Ages...’ Historical evidence is that the Middle Ages ended, with the fall of Constantinople, in 1453 A. D. Sir Edward Coke the Attorney-General who prosecuted Sir Walter was born in 1552 - hundred years later.

To denigrate Coke, he quotes Lord Denning who has said, ‘according to the law of evidence as we know it, the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh was outrageous. The conduct of Attorney General Sir Edward Coke was monstrous.’ I have italicized the four words above to show that Sir Edward was being unfairly characterized. One cannot fairly expect Coke to have abided, in a treason trial under King James 1’s reign, by the law of evidence in its present more civilized formulations achieved in three and a half centuries of growth and development between James 1 and Elizabeth II.

In another reference the writer quotes the ubiquitous Denning again: “a judge must not have the slightest interest in any case pending before him.” Lord Denning was here commenting on the case where Lord Chancellor Cottenham affirmed an injunction issued by his Vice-Chancellor in favour of a company in which Cottenham had shares. But the current debate is not quite about the maxim that “no man is to be a judge in his own cause”. The present concern centres round a senior officer of the Attorney-General’s department dealing with a pre-trial matter.

The question put to the Attorney-General was whether it was proper for an officer of his department to make a decision to or not to prosecute a relation (brother-in-law) and hence of personal interest to the decision-maker. I do not have the A-G’s answer before me, but I recall, his answer was that it would not be improper if at the end of the day the decision would be adverse to the relation. He gave a reason for his view which your correspondent has chosen to ignore. Again as I recall, the reason was that if he eschewed the matter at the beginning, that would itself lead to speculation within the department and to discovery of the relationship which may affect the next officer’s objectivity. One wonders in this context whether in the Grand Junction Canal case the Vice-Chancellor knew that he was making an order in a cause in which the Lord Chancellor, his superior, had a pecuniary interest! In any event, the Attorney-General’s view is perfectly tenable. But of course not everyone, the journalists least looking for sticks and stones anyway, would agree. But one does not honestly believe that, despite all the irrelevant examples given by your correspondent of a former Chief Justice’s snubbing a Minister of Justice, an Attorney-General over ruling the Director of Public Prosecutions (of which the less said would have been the better), judicial objectivity is nothing if not relative in practice. Judges are but human and they are generally affected by a multiplicity of factors, especially in small communities saturated with loyalties and prejudices of one kind or another.

Ferdie Wijeyewickrema.


The Saga of the Koha

Inconspicuous in looks
Another version of a crow
Save for its ‘Olinda’ eyes
Haunting the sprawling branches of trees
With its speckled mate.
Gobbling whole fruits
Off the spike-leaved tree with its yellow flowers
Or mouthfuls of ‘dankuda’
Placed under the tree.
Never pecking
As crows and other birds do
But swallowing whole.
Perched with its mate on the branch
Swooping down for food
Silent! Silent!!; all the time.

Come ‘Bak Maha’
It opens its mouth out wide
‘In full throated ease’
As Keats would have it.
The recesses of its throat
A deep red like its eyes

And lets out its plaintive tone
Loud and clear
Again and again
A clarion call.
Legendary tales of the seeker of its sister ‘ Akko! Akko!
Superstitious tales of death for the repeater
Of its plaintive call
Seven times.
Impish boys echo its tone regardless
None the worse for it.
Akin to its European counterpart
That heralds the spring
It heralds the new year.
What secret lies behind the long-drawn silence?
Coming out alive only for the season.
At other times
Haunting the trees behind my house
The favourite perch
The Letta Kochcha tree
Couples and couples of them
The dark-raven like with the beady eyes
And the grey speckled with the same beady eyes
Silently perched
Silently gobbling
Until the close of another twelve month period
Shatters its dumbness!

Jeannette Cabraal

Captain George Ferdinand - a man of valour

The article in The Sunday Times of April 6, on the first anniversary of the death of Captain George Ferdinand brought back to my mind an incident which occurred in August 1977.

I had just taken up duties as the Secretary, Ministry of Shipping, Aviation and Tourism under the newly elected Government of Prime Minister the late J.R. Jayewardene.

Communal riots had broken out and the Tamils of Colombo were swarming into refugee centres. There was pressure on the Prime Minister to evacuate them to Jaffna as soon as possible. How could this be done with a small Avro aircraft? The journey by ship was too slow and long and there were other complications.

It was in this context that I received a telephone call one morning from the Cabinet room. It was the Prime Minister. He instructed me to explore the possibility of using the DC 8 aircraft with its 180 passenger capacity to ferry the refugees across to the peninsula and to report back to him immediately.

We discussed this matter at a hastily summoned meeting at which the Chairman Air Ceylon, the Director of Civil Aviation and two of Air Ceylon’s most experienced pilots - Captain George Ferdinand and Captain Bradley (I believe he was a Canadian) were present. I was immediately struck by their enthusiasm and the fund of impish humour.

I explained the position to them and asked them what they could do to help us in this situation of grave emergency. The shortcomings at the Palaly airport were discussed. There was no ramp for a DC 8, no landing lights, no compressor to restart the aircraft engines and above all about 2000 feet at one end of the runway had been repaired a few days before and was not ready for use.

Captain Ferdinand spoke with the nodding approval of Captain Bradley. He said that despite these problems, in view of the situation that had arisen, they were prepared to fly the DC 8 to Palaly provided I gave an order in writing and took full responsibility for the operation. They assured me that they would do their best and get over the runway problem by changing their technique of landing. Both of them would work the first flight and concert arrangements to continue the operation. The air of confidence that they exuded was really infectious.

A desperate situation called for a desperate remedy. Strengthened by the assurances given by these two men I issued the necessary orders.

The Chairman Air Ceylon, the Director of Civil Aviation and I would be with them on the first flight which was scheduled for take off at 4.30 p.m. the same day.

Instructions were issued to the authorities at Palaly to find a large open treu and some long school benches and improvise a ramp for the DC 8.

When we took off that evening there were 185 evacuees on board. The landing, although tricky was as smooth as it could possibly be and the disembarkation using the improvised ramp satisfactory. One of the evacuees came forward and speaking in flawless English on behalf of all the evacuees asked us if we could meet them before they boarded the buses to get to town. We met them on the apron. They embraced each of us and blessed us for bringing them to safety. It was Captains Ferdinand and Bradley (whose eyes were moist with tears) who received the warmest of warm embraces. It taught us that even in moments of fear, human beings could find time to express their gratitude. We were greatly moved and encouraged.

The ferrying of evacuees went on for the next two days. All credit for this difficult operation had to be given to these two gallant pilots who made this relief mission possible.

There was an amusing sequel to this operation. I was hauled over the coals by my Minister for taking all this responsibility on myself. The plain truth is that the Minister was in the Cabinet room when the instructions came from the Prime Minister and when our decision to use the DC 8 was conveyed to him. Such are the incomprehensible ways of some of our politicians! Not so the Prime Minister. As soon as the operation was completed he sent a message of appreciation and thanks to all who were involved in it.

As for Ferdinand and Bradley they will always be remembered for their courage and bravery. Truly they were men of valour.

Walter Rupesinghe

Air Ceylon

Return to the Letters to the Editor contents page

Go to the Plus contents page

Write a letter to the editor : editor@suntimes.is.lk

Go to the Letters to the Editor Archive