22nd August 1999
Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?
As the September 15 deadline approaches, one gets the feeling that the day of judgement is nearing.
The dignity of the judiciary must be maintained in the same manner any head of state is expected to administer his or her regime with 'Dasarajadharma'.
Sydney Smith more than a 100 years ago said: "Nations fall when Judges are unjust, because there is nothing the multitude thinks worth defending; but nations do not fall which are treated as we are treated ........... and why? Because this country is a country of the law; because a Judge is a Judge for the peasant as well as for the Palace; when every man's happiness is safeguarded by fixed rules from tyranny or caprice... the Christian patience you may witness, the impartiality of the judgement's seat, the disrespect of persons, disregard of consequence.
"These are noble principles that have guided our Supreme Courts and the Superior Courts and which have filtered down to the minor Judiciary. The day that Judges become unjust and morality is thrown overboard there would be anarchy.
Let us therefore do every thing within our power and our will however insignificant to protect our own freedom by protecting the Judicial system of this country. Let us not permit anyone to point a finger of scorn saying as Lord Denning once said 'Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?' Such scornful remarks destroy the confidence which the people should have in Judges".
Let us not permit a thief in the dock at the end of the trial whilst being convicted and sentenced point scornfully at the Judge and say "How dare you call me a thief when you are the one who has embezzled State funds".
Let us not permit a man in the dock to come before a judge and say "You have abused your authority and judicial power to the detriment of an innocent man. You have compromised with the powers that give you authority to subjugate an innocent man's right to please the sovereign".
When people lose confidence in their Judges they believe the only manner in which they could redress their grievances is to look out for street justice or underworld godfathers who will give them some sense of justice.
In evaluating good conduct it must be said that with deterioration of universally accepted standards, especially in the Sri Lankan community, amoral conduct seems to generate a kind of jubilation among those who indulge in such feasts; it has become a part of the social sub-culture of the country.
It has happened in developed countries as well. It has been the vogue among anti-traditionalists to sneer upon good conduct. The philosophers and thinkers of respective ages are driven by forces to show that the amorality of one age is the morality of the present. This has led to progress as well as decadence.
There may have been rare instances, when the animal instinct of every homosapien would come to the fore. A judge had thrown his wig and removed his gowa and committed a base act in his hallowed chamber to a women, who had been brought before him.
But never could one lay hands on a single page from the rusty tomes or even by surfing the internet with one of the most advanced search engines 'meta crawler' of a judge who lived in open adultery to be known to every litigant brought before him.
In this century, from the inception of the Supreme Court, one may pose the question; who was the best lawyer Sri Lanka has produced. Justice Dr. A.R.B. Amerasinghe's book 'The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka' gives the answer.Dr. Amerasinghe states "as far as the development of the law is concerned, there is little doubt that Hermon Victor Perera, QC did more for it from the Bar than any other lawyer during the first 185 years of the life of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
Chief Justice Abrahams once said that H.V. would have been "an adornment to any Bar, in any country, in any age, but for some reason which was known to the legal fraternity of that age, H.V. never applied for 'Silks' though he exclusively practised in the Appellate Courts. Some personal conduct with reference to his family life made him never to apply for 'Silks'.
Dr. Amerasinghe says "although he reached a stage where he was retained by one side or the other in most matters coming up in appeal, the dignity of 'Silk' eluded him.
H.V. Perera Q.C. did not apply for 'Silks' as he thought his personal life would come in the way of being granted the dignity of being called to the inner Bar. It was the Chief Justice who While acting as governer general invited HV to the Inner Bar. The Chief Justice made a reference to the important part he had personally played in having the dignity of 'Silks' being conferred on H.V.
When H.V. was sworn in as a Queen's Counsel at 11.00 a.m. on the 10th of May, 1937, Chief Justice Sydney Abrahams said "May I, on my own behalf and on that of the judges of the Supreme Court, congratulate you on the well deserved dignity.
I know very well that I am voicing the general opinion not only of the Bench but of the Bar. I am not entirely without self interest in this matter.
But the honour has never been more deservedly granted and you have enhanced the distinction which has been conferred on so very many distinguished sons of this Island, and on others who come to this Island to practice".
H.V. was not a Judge. He was not holding any high position in the Civil Service. Therefore the Establishment Code did not bother him. He had to live through the decision he made. He was the unofficial Leader of the unofficial Bar. There has never been a lawyer before or after who could be compared in legal acumen and advocacy to H.V.
His personal life was a matter entirely of his own making, but nonetheless he was not invited to Queens House until much much later when the Chief Justice (who used to act for the Governor General) on one statetly occasion broke the taboo.That was the moral constraint enforced by those in power on those who would risk behaviour and conduct which would not be in keeping with the dignity of Queen's House.
The situation was such that there were some who were openly critical of his personal conduct so that he refused to risk even applying for 'Silks'.
Thomas Jefferson in 1776 said: "Judges should always be men of learning and experience, of exemplary morals, great patience and calmness and attention."
Dr. A.R.B. Amerasinghe in addressing the District Judges of the Western Province on judicial ethics stated: "There is also the need to be careful at all times about where you go, with whom you are seen, and what you do, because, for one thing, it may lead to a suspicion of bias.
In certain circumstances, a Judge's conduct may lead to a lack of public confidence in him. Let me give you two examples about expected standards of behaviour outside the Court House. A leading post-war Q.C. in England who had climbed to touch the ceiling at his birthday party at the Savoy Hotel, and also owned greyhounds – which are racing dogs – was not appointed to the Bench because his was "not the conduct expected of one of His Majesty's future Judges." Don't you agree?
In 1884 Justice Williams was found dead in a Nottingham brothel. Had he lived, and the fact that he was taken ill in a brothel became known, what would litigants appearing before him have felt? If as Lord Denning once suggested, people could point a finger of scorn saying: Who made thee a ruler and judge over us?, then the Judge at whom the accusing finger is pointed has fallen short of expected standards.
Private misconduct may not be known to many, but if it is known to a few, that is sufficient, for it may be used for purposes of blackmail, which could cause bias.
In any event, it may through the press, become widely known and damage the judge's credibility and tarnish the reputation of the judiciary in general. Sir Winston Churchill told the House of Commons in 1954 during the Judges Remuneration Bill that Judges are required to conform to standards of life and conduct "far more severe and restricted than that of ordinary people". "What". Churchill inquired rhetorically, "would be thought of a Lord Chief Justice if he won the Derby?"
The President has always appealed to the people, as a mother of two children. Any attempt to tarnish her character has been futile as many people still believe she, like her mother, will always preserve the dignity of the office of the Presidency.
Therefore, it is the fervent – hope not only of the large majority of the legal fraternity, but millions of people, that she will appoint, on September 15, as the next Chief Justice a person with impeccable integrity and high moral rectitude.
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