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Counter Terrorism Act gets Cabinet nod

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  • Approval subject to amendments being taken up during committee stage 
  • Draft Bill to be gazetted soon, new law to replace 
  • Prevention of Terrorism Act  

Cabinet yesterday approved the much-awaited Counter Terrorism Bill - which will replace the current Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) once it is passed into law - subject to amendments, the Department of Information confirmed.   

Foreign Minister Thilak Marapana’s proposal to Cabinet to gazette the Bill, which has been drafted with contributions from all stakeholders, was approved by the Cabinet with plans to make the amendments needed during the committee stage of the debate. The Counter Terrorism Act has been a crucial piece of legislation to preserve GSP+ and has been in the works for three years. 

According to reliable Cabinet sources, three main observations were made by Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who raised concerns over disparities in punishments meted out for murder in the new Bill and the penal code. 

The Minister has observed that while the penal code hands the death penalty to murderers, in the new Bill the punishment has been reduced to a life sentence in the event of any murder resulting in an act of terrorism. Rajapakshe has observed that an amendment should be made to ensure that the new Bill tallies with the punishments given in the penal code, the Daily FT learnt. 

“There were some arguments regarding this issue in Cabinet. However, this will be discussed at the committee stage,” the source said. 

Further, concerns were also raised on making confessions inadmissible under the new Counter Terrorism Bill, as per observations made by the European Union. 

The observations made by Cabinet members however said that while the EU did not have provisions to make confessions admissible, it is admissible under the legal framework of the United Kingdom and some member countries within the EU. As such, the EU should not be in a position to push towards making confessions inadmissible under Sri Lankan law, it was argued in Cabinet. 

The EU has raised concerns over the draft Bill since 2016 with regard to provisions in the Bill which limited suspects’ access to lawyers as well as making confessions admissible due to Sri Lanka’s reputation of torturing suspects held in custody. 

Further, observations were made questioning under which ministry the Act, once passed, should be implemented as the Bill gives provisions for the Ministry of Law and Order to enact the legislation. 

However, the Cabinet discussion stressed making the Ministry of Defence the implementing legal authority. 

“There were a number of concerns raised and almost all ministers had made observations. Approval was granted subject to the amendments proposed,” a senior Cabinet Minister told the Daily FT. (CD) 

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