The collection of recorded telephone conversations of Ranjan Ramanayaka can be said to have become a kind of collection of short films that reveal the degeneration of the entire institutional system of the country while conveying the message of it to the people in a simple and straightforward way.
The reading habits of both politicians and the public of Sri Lanka are limited. They read very little. Therefore, the service that can be rendered by serious books or articles is limited. But, it is easy to understand the short footage of Ranjan’s voice recordings. They even contain the element of obscenity or vulgarity which generally people are fond of. These voice recordings while revealing the nakedness of the entire institutional system and the extent of its degeneration, make the public feel the stench emanating from it.
In this backdrop, perceived from a historical sense, the country appears to be fast moving towards anarchy. The content of these short video clips can be said to have accelerated the speed of the move towards anarchy.
I have long been a critic of the degeneration of the institutional system of the country and the need for structural reforms to rectify it. I have written a considerable number of books and articles on this subject. It does not require a great knowledge like rocket science to understand this decay and degeneration.
A serious mistake might become a difficult issue to put right when it is not addressed immediately, as and when it happened. A thing that can be nipped in the bud, after some time, might become difficult even to cut with an axe. It is this lackadaisical approach that overshadows the political arena of Sri Lanka, which has caused the entire institutional system to fall into the current state of pathetic degeneration.
In this article, I hope to explain the background of the degeneration of the institutional system based on the unique experience I have gained of the judiciary of Sri Lanka. Though the short videos of Ranjan’s telephone conversations might help to get a glimpse of the degeneration, it, however, will not lead to an in-depth understanding of the magnitude of the issue. If the system is to be redeemed from the present predicament, it is essential that Sri Lanka must have a deep knowledge and understanding of the issue.
I wish to begin this analysis quoting some comments made by Professor Johan Galtung about Sri Lanka at a discussion I had with him. He is a mathematician and a sociologist, and one of the most respected theorists in the field of conflict resolution, in the world. He must be around 70 years old and has written more than 100 books. The book titled ‘Gatum Nirakaranaya Pilibanda Siddhi Adhyanayak’, published by the Ravaya is the sinhala translation of the book – ‘A case study of conflict resolution’ authored by Professor Johan Galtung. I must say that the Ravaya translated and published it at his request.
He has been to Sri Lanka more than 20 times. He came to Sri Lanka when the country was struck by the tsunami in 2005. One evening, at his request, I met him at the place where he stayed in Colombo. He initiated a fairly lengthy discussion on Sri Lanka based on the book titled ‘Nonimi Aragalaya’ (An unfinished struggle) authored by me.
He said that he found a copy of the English translation of the book and had read about half of it and made a brief commentary on Sri Lanka based on what he had learnt from the book.
“I couldn’t read your book completely. I have read about half of it. The Supreme Court of any country is ranked as the highest point of the institutional hierarchy; it is like the peak of a high mountain. All the other institutions are presumed to be lying below the Supreme Court. Therefore, if the Supreme Court is overwhelmed by flood, then it goes without saying that all the other institutions which lie below cannot escape being submerged ,” he said.
The observation of the professor was absolutely correct.
The Rapist Magistrate
I got involved in the judicial crisis described in the above book as a result of an accidental encounter of an incident in my professional career. I was compelled to inquire into, and report on an incident in which a magistrate had sexually abused the wife of a defendant in a case heard by him, by prolonging his detention in the remand custody, contrary to the law.
Upon inquiry into the matter, I was able to detect that the Magistrate in question, prior to joining the judiciary, had worked in the Insurance Corporation and been dismissed from the service following a formal investigation held into a financial fraud committed by him.
The said Magistrate, on the advice of Sarath Silva, the Attorney General, filed a complaint against me at the CID to initiate a criminal defamation case against me. An investigation was begun against me, but on account of the facts revealed during the course of the inquiry, it took a different turn and became an inquiry against the magistrate himself. Accordingly, the investigators obtained a statement from the women who had been raped by the magistrate. They also found out the facts about his dismissal from the Insurance Corporation.
After the investigation was over, the CID sent its report to the Attorney General for further advice. If the Attorney General had an iota of sense, after reading the report, even if he had ignored the rape case, he should have taken stern action against the Magistrate for joining the judiciary by not disclosing his past record of employment in which he had been dismissed from service over a financial fraud by his former employer. Instead, what the Attorney General did was to hold back the investigation report and sit on it.
The vicious role of the AG
Later, I complained about the matter to Prof. G.L. Peiris, the then Minister of Justice. The Minister inquired, in writing from Sarath Silva, the Attorney General about the report of the inquiry. In response, the Attorney General sent a confidential report to the Minister of Justice. This led me to conclude that, like Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake, the Attorney General Sarath Silva also must be a corrupt person.
This prompted me to delve into the personal character of the Attorney General. It was in consequence of this searching that I came to know about a divorce case filed by one Jayasekera, a Chemical Engineer against his wife naming Sarath Silva, the Attorney General also as a co-respondent.
Sarath Silva, contravening the law, manipulated Upali Abeyratne, the District Judge who heard this case to oppress Jayasekara, the plaintiff of the case, outrageously. Jayasekera, in turn filed a complaint against Upali Abeyratne, the District Judge, with the Judicial Service Commission. In response to the complaint made by Jayasekara, the Judicial Service Commission investigated the matter and Upali Abeyratne was found guilty, and the report of the investigation was sent to the Attorney General to initiate legal action against him. Tissa Bandaranaike and Mark Fernando were the two Supreme Court judges who had conducted the investigation. It was around this time that Sarath Silva who worked as the President of the Court of Appeal was appointed Attorney General by President Chandrika Bandaranaike after the government change in 1994. Sarath Silva, following his appointment as the Attorney General, swept under the carpet, the report sent by the Judicial Service Commission, to protect Upali Abeyratne, the District Judge who acted on his advice, contrary to the law in the case filed by the chemical engineer naming him (Sarath Silva) also a co-respondent of the case.
Mediation of Bar Association
Upon finding this information, without limiting my struggle against Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake, I had to change my stance, and raise my voice against the District Judge Upali Abeyratne and Attorney General Sarath Silva also. Finally, Romesh de Silva, the head of the Bar Association, convened a conference of former presidents of the Bar Association to seek their advice on the policy of the Bar Association in regard to the reports I had published in respect of the Attorney General and the two judges.
Along with the letter sent to the invitees, the Bar Association had sent photocopies of the reports I had published about Attorney General Sarath Silva and the two Judges – Lenin Ratnayake and Upali Abeyratne.
This special meeting of the Presidents of Bar Association was held at the residence of H.L. de Silva, the most distinguished and respected celebrity among the lawyers. The decision reached at this meeting was as follows.
1.The charges against the two judges should be investigated.
2.If the allegations against the two judges were proven, they should be strictly prosecuted and the allegations levelled against the Attorney General should be investigated.
Consequently, the Judicial Service Commission headed by the Chief Justice was compelled to appoint two Committees consisting of the Judges of the Court of Appeal to investigate the allegations levelled against the two judges by me.
Two committees of investigation
The investigation against Lenin Ratnayake was initiated with my testimony. I had to produce the two women who were sexually abused by the Magistrate, and their husbands as witness. One woman had been raped at Gampola rest house coaxing her that the magistrate wanted to take a statement from her. The other woman had been raped in the Magistrate’s chamber itself; the lawyer who appeared for the defendant in that case was guarding the entrance to the chamber while the Magistrate was inside with the women.
Perhaps, no one has ever heard of an occasion in which a woman connected with a court case was raped by the Magistrate who heard the case, inside his official chamber itself, appointing the lawyer who appeared on her behalf, to guard the entrance to the chamber. The committee of investigation had to summon two lawyers of the Court as witnesses to testify the truth of the case. One such person was Balagalla who later became the Governor of the North Western Provincial Council.
Lenin Ratnayake came before the committee of inquiry, accompanied by a large group of lawyers led by a leading President’s Counsel. However, the Defendants’ attorneys were unable to refute the testimony of the two women and their husbands, who came from poor rural background and were not educated. The lengthy cross-examination of the witnesses further confirmed the authenticity of their statements.
Later, the husband of one woman, to avenge his wife’s rape, hurled a polythene bag filled with human excreta at the Magistrate while his case was being heard in the courtroom. The other had made a vain attempt to murder the Magistrate.
Lenin Ratnayake testified before the committee of inquiry, but he did not appear before the committee of inquiry to be cross-examined. In the end, the committee of inquiry proceeded with the inquiry ex parte and found Lenin Ratnayake guilty of all the four charges.
As the District Judge Upali Abeyratne did not challenge the allegations against him, the committee of inquiry recommended to the Judicial Service Commission to send him on retirement from the Judicial Service with immediate effect.
Thrusting the AG to the wall
After winning these two investigations, I wanted to bring to the fore an investigation against Attorney General Sarath Silva following the recommendation made by the former presidents of the Bar Association. I lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court requesting it to strike the name of the Attorney General Sarath Silva off the Roll of Attorneys-at-Law for his gross misconduct of concealing the misdemeanour of the corrupt Magistrate Lenin Ratnayaka and protecting him.
The Chief Justice (GPS de Silva) had submitted my complaint to the Supreme Court judges, in the order of their seniority and informed them to express their opinion as to whether my complaint should be investigated or not.
Only three judges namely Priyantha Perera, D.P.S. Gunasekara and L.G.H. Weerasekera were of the opinion that it should not be investigated. All the other judges were in favour of an investigation. Meanwhile, chemical engineer Jayasekera who filed a divorce case against his wife making Sarath Silva, a co-respondent of the case, also lodged a petition in the Supreme Court demanding that the name of the Attorney General Sarath Silva is revoked from the Roll of Attorneys-at-Law.
Finally, the Chief Justice entrusted Amir Ismail with the responsibility of inquiring into my petition while that of Jayasekera’s petition was assigned to Shirani Bandaranayake. Mark Fernando was entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating both investigations.
G.P.S. De Silva retired from the post of Chief Justice when the investigations of the two committees had been commenced and were in progress. President Chandrika Kumaratunga considered the judiciary as an anti-government entity as the Supreme Court had ruled out several activities conducted by the Government which were contrary to the law. She had concerns for a new constitution and a presidential election for a second term. She considered that it was essential to bring the Supreme Court to a level where she could control it and overcome the legal obstacles.
Attorney General Sarath Silva was a close confidante of her, who was trapped in a quandary at that time facing inquiries before the Supreme Court. She decided that the best way to wield her power over the Supreme Court and overcome the legal restrictions on her plans would be to help Sarath Silva to get over his problems and appoint him as the Chief Justice.
It is not befitting for the head of the state to appoint a person against whom an inquiry was being conducted by the Supreme Court, as the head of the Supreme Court. It can be considered an extremely preposterous act that the head of the state shouldn’t have done at all. Apparently, she had done this against the advice of H.L. de Silva and K.W. Gunasekara, her legal counsellors, who had urged her not to do that. Param Kumaraswamy, the topmost UN official on the subject of judiciary, also condemned her action.
Chief Justice Sarath Silva
The arduous struggle that I launched against Chief Justice Sarath Silva and was nearing a logical end of it was all of a sudden plunged into an anti climax by this indecorous act of the president. I expressed my protest by reporting this news as a black issue in the front page of the Ravaya newspaper with the caption ‘demise of the independence of the judiciary’ and featuring the picture depicting the new chief justice taking oath before the president, up side down.
Thereafter, three activists including me filed a fundamental rights case against the Chief Justice challenging his appointment as the Chief Justice. The case was filed not because we expected to have justice meted out by a judiciary controlled by him, but to indicate that we would not abandon the struggle that had been launched. It became the focus of international attention. The International Lawyers Association sent a retired Chief Justice of Kerala, India on the days of its hearing to observe the proceedings.
After seizing the judicial power, the Chief Justice turned the judiciary topsy turvy. The first thing he did was to come to the rescue of Upali Abeyratne. Consequently, the person who had been recommended to be sent on compulsory retirement from the judicial service eventually retired as a Judge of the Supreme Court. Although he tried to protect Lenin Ratnayake, it was not entirely successful.
The damage done to the judiciary
The damage done to the judiciary by the Chief Justice is immense. He deprived the judiciary of its solemnity and respect and made it a stinking place. He expelled the judges who refused to fall in line with him from the judiciary. Those whom he could not expel were made to be redundant and judges of no use.
He distorted the system of governance in the country; passed judgements creating a system in which the members of the opposition can join the ruling party without losing their parliamentary seats; (mis)used judicial power to punish innocent people and imprison them. The chief justice of the country had close ties with certain people in the underworld. They spoke to the Chief Justice over the phone. He also used to talk to them over the phone.
In a moral sense, he made the judiciary a desert. Once, the Chief Justice was caught by the police, while staying, half naked with a married female lawyer in a car parked near the Diyawanna Oya. The bust, the upper portion of his body was covered with a shirt and a tie while the rest of it was naked and without a trouser. Although this incident caused a great uproar in the country, both the ruling party and the opposition took it as a matter of joke and a source of fun and they did not consider the importance of safeguarding the dignity and the sanctity of the judiciary.
The powerful and important people of the country, all of them remained aloof in the face of distortions created in the judiciary, leaving them to take root and become solidified. Nobody wanted to rectify the distortions that he caused to the judiciary. Instead, different parties exploited him to the fullest for their personal gains. Even the political parties like the JHU and the JVP obtained legal rulings favourable for their fame. The owners of the media institutions who came to his rescue during the difficult hour got their cases settled through the back door.
Every one of them defended this man who had sacrileged the judiciary, as best as they could. After him, several other people held the post of Chief Justice. But none of them had made an attempt to cleanse the ugly dirt scattered on the sacred altar of judiciary.
Not only the judiciary, but every other institution in the country is in a putrid state. Each of them has a story of its own that explains how they had become so. What Ranjan Ramanayaka has done, knowingly or unknowingly was to tear the curtains that concealed the ugly dirt scattered all over and everywhere and expose them.
Sri Lanka’s rulers lack the discipline to act promptly and correct serious transgressions as and when they occur. As a result, the entire system of institutions has become corrupt and the transgressions and wrongdoings have been left to become crystallised and transfixed. If Sri Lanka wants to recover from this rotten mess, it is necessary that we go for far reaching structural reforms for all sectors. It is not something that the political parties alone can do. It should be a change that is made by the public with their direct involvement.