Presidential pardons are part of the powers given to the Executive President, which also comes with wide discretionary powers on how they can be used. But many are concerned that using presidential pardons can undermine the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary.
President Maithripala Sirisena already used his still considerable powers earlier this year when he released Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) General Secretary Galagod Aththe Gnanasara Thero and has expressed interest in using it a second time to release Royal Park murder convict Shramantha Jude Anthony Jayamaha.
The Royal Park Murder refers to the high-profile murder of a young woman at the Royal Park luxury apartment complex in Rajagiriya, on 30 June 2005. The case gained a lot of media attention in Sri Lanka at the time because of the brutality that snuffed out a young life. The case went through the legal process for a number of years and a life sentence was eventually handed down. The matter appeared closed but the latest attempt to secure the murderer’s release through the use of a presidential pardon has sparked much criticism in the public domain.
The legal process exists to deal with crimes and to ensure that the guilty parties are punished. There can be instances when justice is miscarried and it may then be necessary to intervene to correct the situation but that also needs to be done from within the legal framework. The verdict in the Royal Park murder case was delivered after numerous rounds of hearings and later upheld despite an appeal process. There has been no indication of a miscarriage of justice that warrants any external intervention from the President.
When the BBS General Secretary was released there was an uproar about the President undermining the rule of law and overriding a court decision through a presidential pardon. The same argument stands true at this point as well. The judicial system must operate, and must be seen to be operating, in an independent and efficient manner. The rich and the powerful cannot be allowed to sidestep this process not just because it is morally and ethically wrong, but also because confidence in the legal system will be destroyed.
Moreover, there is evidence to show that Jayamaha had a history of violent behaviour, which culminated in the horrific murder. Releasing such a dangerous person back into society should not be taken lightly no matter what education he has managed to gather in the interim. The victim’s family has already come out in protest and it is disheartening and sad that they cannot find closure and move forward even 15 years after this terrible incident but must instead continue their battle for justice. The sister of the victim has pointed out that contrary to President Sirisena’s assertion that the murder happened as a result of an argument, there were clear signs of premeditation. Seemingly reducing the severity of a crime and seeking to find reasons to release the offender is not an act that should be considered by a Head of State.
With just about three weeks to go before President Sirisena’s term ends, the focus should be about leaving the presidency on a moral high. Not by signing off on an act that will undermine the rule of law, destroy lives and anger and endanger the public.