Following is the speech delivered by Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the SLPP Lawyers’ Forum on Saturday 31 August at The Kingsbury Colombo
- Asserts noble concepts of democracy and the rule of law must be safeguarded at all times
- Says rule of law and the independence of the judiciary of paramount importance in safeguarding people’s sovereignty
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, fifth Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Hon. Members of Parliament and all other people’s representatives, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s Lawyers’ Association and party members, all contributors to this event, distinguished guests, media representatives, viewers of this conference in Sri Lanka and also from abroad, friends, this is the first time that I am meeting so many representatives of the legal profession since having been nominated by the fifth President of Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as the representative of the common aspirations of many political parties and independent groups the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna at the forthcoming Presidential Election. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you on this occasion.
The legal profession is one of the most respected professions in the country. It is one with a very long and rich history. Tracing its origins to ancient Greece, the legal profession developed further in ancient Rome and later proliferated throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Law, as a formally structured profession with its own training traditions and rigorous professional standards, was established in Sri Lanka in the 1830s.
It is the primary responsibility of legal professionals to study the law, practice the law, nurture the law and safeguard the law. The law is one of the foundations of a civilised society. It is imperative that we have a robust legal system in order to ensure the proper functioning of the law.
We all know that the concept of the rule of law is integral to the development of a society with a robust legal system. It is universally accepted that the rule of law can only be ensured within the framework of democratic and limited government.
The noble concepts of democracy and the rule of law must be safeguarded at all times to ensure the wellbeing and the advancement of the people.
Sri Lanka is a democratic country. It was the first country in Asia to receive universal franchise.
National security and national development are of primary importance in building the prosperous nation that the people expect. The rule of law is critical to any discussion of national security. Only one system of law should operate within one nation. The law must apply to all equally
The granting of universal franchise in Sri Lanka in 1931 under the recommendations of the Donoughmore commission took place at a time before democracy was firmly established in many of today’s developed nations.
Universal franchise has been the foundational force behind the transition from monarchical rule to democratic governance in republics throughout the world.
Universal franchise results in sovereignty being bestowed upon the people.
The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are of paramount importance in safeguarding the people’s sovereignty.
Although we still repose our trust in the independence of the judiciary, when looking at recent trends, we must admit to having questions about the independence of some of the other institutions and officials entrusted with upholding the rule of law.
While thousands of cases that affect the lives of the citizenry of the country remain delayed in the legal system, the efforts to establish special courts to expedite cases against political opponents lead to suspicions about the politicisation of institutions entrusted with the execution of the law.
There is a popular saying that justice delayed is justice denied.
Delays within the legal system is a major problem affecting public life today.
Whilst effecting improvements in infrastructure that will militate against these delays, your support will be required to amend archaic laws, regulations and procedures and create a system of laws that will suit the nation’s future needs.
The law is a living concept. It must change according to the changes that take place in society. This is why continuous legal education is one of the primary tools used in developed nations to ensure that the legal profession maintains the highest standards
Many of our courtrooms are in dilapidated condition today. Unless action is taken swiftly, it is likely that these buildings will be unusable in the near future. It is in this context that we hope to re-implement the programme to develop the infrastructure of the courts system which was planned by the previous Government in 2014.
The reintroduction of this infrastructure development programme will ensure that you will be able to practice your profession in all the main cities and other towns of the country with due dignity and ease.
We must also inquire whether the current courts and justices are sufficient in number to effect the swift prosecution of justice.
We will need to seek short term and long term solutions to be able to prevent the law’s delays. This will include developing infrastructure, increasing opportunities for local and foreign training, and restructuring of some of the institutions responsible for upholding the rule of law.
Since the leap forward we envisage in national development will make liberal use of new technologies, the digital technologies used in courtrooms in countries such as Singapore may need to be gradually introduced to Sri Lanka.
I know that being appointed President’s Counsel is one of the highest honours any lawyer can aspire to. Although our nations’ leaders have historically striven to safeguard the dignity of this honour, concerns have arisen regarding certain appointments made to this position in the recent past.
In the future, I look forward to seeking the advice of the Chief Justice, Attorney General, legal experts and the Bar Association in order to establish a transparent, rigid procedure to govern appointments to the position of Presidents’ Counsel.
I trust that all of you eagerly anticipate witnessing the rapid development of Sri Lanka.
National security and national development are of primary importance in building the prosperous nation that the people expect.
The rule of law is critical to any discussion of national security. Only one system of law should operate within one nation. The law must apply to all equally.
Whilst citizens must always abide by the law, there is a problem if they fear the institutions and persons who uphold it. We must always keep in mind that the institutions and individuals entrusted with upholding the rule of law are also subject to it. The law must apply to them without fear or favour.
We have seen in the media that certain high officials in the government have bent the law in the recent past, thereby challenging the supremacy of the maxim that the law applies equally to all.
That is why we have requested an independent inquiry into the tragic attacks that took place on Easter Sunday. If this is not instituted, we foresee that certain politically powerful individuals may escape justice.
We need the support of domestic and foreign investors to accelerate the nation’s economic development.
When investors select countries to invest in, the efficient operation of the law within the country is one of the first things they look at. They pay particular attention to the independence of the judiciary and the efficiency of the legal system. They also examine whether the laws of the nation are in consonance with international law.
Legal scholars should therefore look at improving the mechanisms available for the swift settlement of legal disputes in Sri Lanka, including such speedy and efficient measures as arbitration. Just as Singapore today has established a global reputation as a centre for arbitration, Sri Lanka too should aspire to establishing a reputation for different specialisms in the legal sphere in future.
The law is a living concept. It must change according to the changes that take place in society. This is why continuous legal education is one of the primary tools used in developed nations to ensure that the legal profession maintains the highest standards. Improvements needed to the facilities available for this is an important subject for discussion.
The Asian region is an increasingly powerful one within today’s global economy. We should make maximum use of this trend. Our export economy must be strengthened. We must exploit our unique geostrategic position. In all of this, we must foster a thorough understanding of international law. In this context, I believe it is incumbent upon you, as legal professionals, to take steps to further develop your knowledge in the relevant subjects.
Constitutional reform, modernising archaic laws and regulations, electoral reform are only some of the many endeavours regarding which we will need to call upon the services of legal professionals in the future. We will work to obtain the support of legal scholars and specialists in various sectors for this.
I would like to remind you that we hope to use new technologies as much as possible in our quest for progress. That is important to you too. As a former Chief Justice of Israel, the Hon. Aaron Barak noted, it is imperative that one identifies and makes every effort to utilise new global technology trends to maintain the value of one’s profession.
I propose to lead a future government that will always revere and uphold democracy, and always safeguard the rights of the public.
There is a popular false narrative about human rights violations which supposedly took place in the last stages of the war against terrorism. However, this false narrative blithely ignores the many delays in the pursuit of victory that arose from our strong commitment to protect and uphold human rights.
Although it would have been possible for us to pursue a faster resolution to the war by using heavy artillery, we did not. Instead, we chose to pursue victory using only light arms, even though this resulted in thousands of war heroes sacrificing their lives. This strategy was pursued because of the nearly 300,000 innocent Tamil civilians entrapped by the LTTE for use as a human shield during the last stages of the war.
Rescuing them from danger was our primary aim. This is glibly forgotten by those who seek to attack us on the topic of human rights. So too is the fact that more than 11,000 LTTE cadres were rehabilitated and reintegrated into society in the aftermath of the war.
The most fundamental right of a citizen in a democratic country is the right to vote. This democratic right will be strengthened under our future administration. We vow to create a system of governance that truly respects the integrity of the individual’s vote, the power of the public view, and works to truly effect the rule of law instead of merely paying lip service to it.
The fundamental rights of the people are firmly enshrined in the Constitution. The people’s responsibilities are also clear.
The right you have to live freely can only be enjoyed within a society in which everyone else’s right to do so is respected.
Fostering a respectful, disciplined, and law abiding society is an aspiration we all share.
I pledge that I am ready to provide the leadership required to ensure the realisation of this dream, and I humbly hope for your support in order to do so.
I conclude by wishing all of you a bright future.
Thank you very much.