Respect for the Judiciary must come from two sources: Citizens and Government

Friday, 15 January 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

At a time when our nation needs good whistleblowers like Ranjan, we have lost him! Ranjan Ramanayake has derailed a selfless mission by his own excesses


 

Protecting from public insult, we, in Australia and the West, have learnt to have the highest respect for the Judiciary. Judges in court perform duties of the highest order. Upon the Judiciary our liberties and our rights as citizens rest. 

The Judiciary is the pinnacle of justice for everyone. At the level of individual citizens, this utmost responsibility is safeguarded by the law relating to contempt of court. Nobody can make utterance or act in a way that can be taken to imply contempt of court. 

Member of Parliament Ranjan Ramanayake has just paid the penalty over charges of contempt of court. He will be behind bars for four long years. 

Ranjan’s penchant for exposing public corruption has been much admired by the public despite the controversial ways he had got “information.” He had shown a ruthless fearlessness in this regard. However, he exhibited foolhardiness in going a mile further to charge our judges as being corrupt. 

With no evidence at his command, Ranjan’s accusation turned into mudslinging and the MP was confirmed as having been guilty of contempt charges. Ranjan Ramanayake has derailed a selfless mission by his own excesses. At a time when our nation needs good whistleblowers like Ranjan, we have lost him! 

The Government has reason to be jubilant but not the people. With Ranjan gone, Sri Lanka is left with a whole bunch of selfish, self-serving, power- mongering and mendacious politicians. 



The role of Government

The Judiciary must be protected not only from public insult; the most important and fundamental source of protection must come from the Government. This is done in a myriad of ways: Government members not interfering with judges directly and indirectly, Government not flouting orders of court; and Government carrying out certain healthy practices. 

Government must, above all, ensure that the best selections for vacancies in the Judiciary are made impartially and with no semblance of political consideration. This action on the part of the Government of the day enables the public to have respect and collective esteem for our judges. 

It is the public perception that Sri Lankan governments have been negligent of this wider responsibility of ensuring a Judiciary of high quality. Perception is important and this is why the old adage ‘Justice must not only be done but must manifestly appear to be done’ is valid for all time and everywhere. 



Practices 

Furthermore, we have had instances of bad practice on the part of the Government. A Chief Justice had been unceremoniously and illegally evicted by Parliament at the behest of the Government. Promotions and transfers have also been questioned. 

The Yahapalanaya Government, to its credit, introduced independent constitutional commissions to make appointments to high office of the Judiciary and we had four years of minimal political interference. With such arrangements, public respect for our judges soared; while at the same time judges grew in self-confidence to perform their sacrosanct duties. 

As a contrast, the Rajapaksa regime has over and over again shown disdain for the independence of bodies other than those directly run by the office of the Executive President and its allied wings. It is admitted that the unholy tinkering with judges began with JR. With the Rajapaksas, however, this trend grew into horrible proportions. 

Even the practice of pardoning impacts on the environment in which the Judiciary works. If the judges, for instance, convict a person for murder and directs the latter to the hangman and the Government of the day converts this same convict into an honoured MP this becomes ludicrous. 



Wider justice system 

There is another aspect: the whole justice system includes more than the judges. It covers the actions of the Attorney General too. The AG must be seen to be above board in directing the cases to be brought before the judges. The public perception has suffered here too. 

As a matter of fact, the police are also part of the wider set known as the judicial system. Political interference in the ranks of the police force is dismally high. The constitutional position of the Attorney General needs review. In Australia, the AG is a minister of cabinet rank. This gives him a clout. In Sri Lanka the AG is really the Chief Public Prosecutor and he heads a government department under a minister. 

Thus, the protection of our Judiciary has to be twofold, namely, from the individual citizen and, perhaps more fundamentally, from the President and Government. The two sources are intertwined in effect.

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