‘The Giants of the Legal Profession of the Past: Reminiscences and Anecdotes’

Wednesday, 20 February 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Book Review by Gotabaya Dasanayaka

The latest literary contribution to the lore of the Legal Profession in Sri Lanka, authored by S.R. De Silva, was published as a monograph of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC). The Monograph or Book as I refer to it here is titled ‘The Giants of The Legal Profession of the Past: Reminiscences and Anecdotes’. 

In his introduction, the author explains what prompted him to put pen to paper. He says: “When I have regaled friends with stories and anecdotes about these Legal Luminaries, I have often been asked why I had not put them down on paper lest they are forgotten, and also so that those coming after us, would have information of these admirable men who would be excellent role models for future generations of lawyers.” 

Not only lawyers, but any person interested in contemporary social developments of Sri Lanka will certainly value and enjoy reading this 43-page book. The style of writing makes it very readable and its content, the anecdotes in particular, may even cause the reader to marvel at the high esteem in which these great lawyers and our entire legal system were regarded both in Sri Lanka and overseas. 

The author himself is not a “Hulftsdorp Man” so to speak. Yet, being the son of a respected lawyer cum judge, he grew up in a legal environment and as he notes, was obviously privy from his childhood to much of the happenings at Hulftsdorp. He graduated in Law with honours from the then prestigious Faculty of Law in Peradeniya of the University of Ceylon. 

Being called to the Bar, he had his own stint at Hulftsdorp “devilling” under more than one Queen’s Counsel in the early 1960s and as a junior counsel. He joined the EFC in 1964 and from 1989 to 2001, worked at a senior level with the International Labour Organisation in the Asian Region and at its Headquarters in Geneva. 

Thereafter, he worked at the International Organization of Employers (IOE) until mid-2003. Though he took early leave of Hulftsdorp, he never really lost touch with the Law or the Bar. On the contrary, he is renowned in legal circles for his contributions to the development of Employment Law in Sri Lanka with numerous books and publications to his credit. 

He has also been regularly cited as ‘authority’ in this field in the highest courts of the land. This book, as the title suggests, makes reference to many great lawyers from the early 20th century onwards. Based on criteria he adopts, the author identifies among them, 23 “giants”. He is quick to concede that his list is not exhaustive. Neither can it be he says for “it is as difficult to compile a list of ‘giants’ as it is to compile the world’s greatest cricket or football team.” 

I will not name herein  the lawyers recognised in the book, but merely say that while the awe-inspiring H. V. Perera KC is given pride of place, there are also a few whose names that may not have been as legendary as the others but certainly deserve the recognition given. The common thread that runs through them all is that they were not just brilliant Advocates, restricted to the knowledge and application of the law. 

Their vistas went far beyond the law itself. They were quite versatile and exhibited talents in various fields such as literature, history, the classics, music and even folklore. Above all, they were all upright men of tested integrity. The author dedicates this book to four among the “giants” to whom he is personally grateful: Sam Kadiragamar QC, C. Renganathan Q C, Aelien Kannangara and R.K.W. (Raja) Goonesekera. The dedication is followed by two quotations which perhaps explain best the rationale for his writing the book. I reproduce both hereunder:

“A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an Architect” – Sir Walter Scott.

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child” – Cicero

The book is available for sale at the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. For further information,

Tel. – 011 2 8679 668/011 2 867 941