Can Ranjan Ramanayake be indicted?

Monday, 8 February 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Helasingha Bandara

Ranjan Ramanayake 


Present tense is used for the title of this article, for a concluded trial, because the view that is expressed here is applicable to similar cases, past, present, or future, irrespective of any individuals involved. Ramanayake’s case is chosen for its symbolic value as it is still new and hotly debated. 

Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama’s Daily Financial Times article ‘Is Ranjan Ramanayake disqualified?’, dated Tuesday 2 February 2021 is the influence for this article. Being a legal expert, Nihal Jayawickrama has logically outlined the relevant clauses of the penal code and the constitutional provisions of Sri Lanka in support of the view that Ranjan could not be indicted for the offence that he was charged for and that it is illegal to disqualify him from sitting and voting in Parliament. 

My article ‘Contempt of Court vs. Freedom of Expression’, published by the FT on 21 January 2021, (file:///C:/Users/dissa/Documents/Articles%202/Contempt%20of%20Court%

20vs.%20freedom%20of%20expression%20_%20Daily%20FT.html), refers to the hitherto use of anachronistic English law and archaic English language in Sri Lanka. In England, the law has taken many strides forward. The article also dealt with different explanations of the concept ‘contempt of court’ and what falls within the offence of contempt of court in different countries. Hence the repetition of the law in relation to contempt of court or of the definition of contempt of court is avoided here. 

However, it is very important to point out that many people who have expressed opinions about this particular court case have so far missed the salient point that for the offence of contempt of court to be constituted the involvement of a court and court case proceedings or a pending case are absolute prerequisites. In most countries including England from whom we inherited our laws, contempt of court occurs when the administration of justice is impeded. This is to mean that the administration of justice of the said pending or proceeding court case. 

Even in the situation of the accusation of scandalising the court, it is not taken out of context but must be in relation to a proceeding or pending court case. Simply, when something said or done in the absence of, or not in relation to a proceeding or pending court case, contempt of court cannot occur. It is strange that Ranjan’s lawyers have not argued this point. Like others they may have missed this detail. 

Ranjan Ramanayaka has shouted into thin air in front of the Araliyagaha Mandiraya when he said that the majority of judges are corrupt. He did not speak in the context of any proceeding or a pending court case, nor did he mean to insult the plaintiffs. Thus, his comments have in no way impeded the administration of justice in a proceeding or pending court case. This can be further understood by comparing the cases of Ghanasara Thero and Ranjan. 

The Thero had barged into a court room while a case was proceeding and shouted abuse at a witness and threatened her with physical harm. It would be reasonable to consider that the witness could have refused to give further evidence for the fear of life, which would have impeded the administration of justice in that case. Despite the disproportionality of the punishment the Thero received, he clearly had committed the offence of contempt of court under the current law and definition. Ranjan, has not acted in a similar manner, nor has he spoken in relation to any particular court case. Therefore, it is not legally admissible that he committed contempt of court.

Nihal Jayawickrama states: “The Sri Lanka Government was ordered to pay compensation to Dissanayake, and restore his right to vote and to be elected. The Government was also requested to make such changes to the law and practice relating to contempt of court, so as to avoid similar violations of the ICCPR in the future. Over a decade later, a law on contempt of court is yet to be enacted by Parliament.”

In comparison with the Dissanayake case, if taken to international jurisdictions on freedom of expression or human rights, Sri Lanka Government can be held for contempt of international law and signed covenants (pun). 



Most people from anti-Ranjan political camps and who have personal grudges against him publicly denounce Ranjan as a social evil. His personality is irrelevant to a court that hears a contempt of court case. Such critics do not fail to highlight that the judiciary as sublime and supreme, in the same manner they use hyperbolic rhetoric to address the President as his excellency the President (Athi Garu Janadhipathi Thuman). Even for an island, the use of such subservient language in the 21st century is injudicious. 

Ranjan’s critics speculate that when someone says the majority of judges are corrupt, such comments lower the dignity of judiciary and cause the public to lose faith on the judiciary. Lowering of the faith of the public in the judiciary may stop people seeking justice from such an institution but it cannot obstruct the administration of justice if judges intend to deliver justice. Lowering of the dignity of the judiciary may be caused more by the irresponsible and indecent behaviour of judges than by a comment of an individual. 

Besides, such a hypothesis does not become law when the law is explained clearly, although Sri Lanka has not moved on with other advanced countries in this respect. The fragmentary legal system we have, cannot be used to prosecute someone who has said something against the judges out of context or on the interpretation that vilification of a judge as an individual lowers the dignity of the judiciary. Simply there is no contempt law against that.


The Opposition

The main purpose of writing this article is to express amusement and astonishment for the comments that are being made by the opposition to which Ranjan belongs, in relation to his conviction. The opposition suddenly waking up from a four-and-a-half-year slumber of reign, has begun to be indiscriminately vociferous about everything that the present Government does as if none of them were in the previous Government, but the entire ineffective carnival was run by Ranil or Maithri. They do not accept responsibility for any ill-doing during their administration that forced people to take refuge in the Rajapaksa camp. 

Sajith Premadasa is now going round the villages making promises that he will not sell any national resources despite previously having done so not very long ago. Are people deaf not to hear the resonating of the same promise made by the current regime before being elected?

Regarding the Ranjan Ramanayaka case, all opposition commentators including their leader start their circumspect comments with a hidden apology that they are not going to talk about a court verdict. This is a baseless fear that has emanated from ignorance, lack of knowledge, and indeed cunning. The judiciary and its other apparatus can be criticised as long as the criticism does not impede the administration of justice in a proceeding or pending court case. 

Judges, lawyers and other officials in the criminal justice system are not saints and they can be subjected to criticism under the freedom of expression. If the individuals do not agree with the criticism, they must resort to private remedies. When the awareness of freedom of expression, within civilised limitations, are raised, people will voice their opinion without fear of intimidation. This is a healthy practice for a civilised nation that does not want lawlessness to reign.


The State

The state on the other hand pretends that one rule for all while explicitly enforcing different rules when and where they choose to do so. Having set an evil precedent by appointing ad hoc and arbitrary commissions to overrule court verdicts, they have thrown a boomerang. No doubt the next set of politicians will make use of that precedence to their own advantage. The danger lies with the recommendation of the commission, that exonerated individuals may have legal redress against their prosecutors. Imagine, if anyone was convicted against the law by any party presumably influenced by another party, alas! both parties can be held accountable by such kangaroo commissions in the future. Disaster lies ahead.


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