“Justice won’t be cloistered virtue under my dispensation,” CJ Peiris pledges

Friday, 25 January 2013 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

nSays it is axiomatic that judicial power becomes palladium of public trust in hands of Judiciary

nResolves to answer heavy responsibilities of judicial call with zeal and energy

nTo seek guidance and precepts from the major faiths of the nation

Following is the ceremonial address delivered by Chief Justice Mohan Peiris on Wednesday, 23 January, at the Supreme Court Complex at Hulftsdorp last morning


Mr. Attorney and Mr. Zarook, it is with an overwhelming sense of humility and modesty that I assume the mantle of the office of the 44th Chief Justice.

At the outset let me thank my dear friend and former colleague Attorney General Palitha Fernado PC for showering his fulsome praise and wishes. His evocative words rekindled in me memories of those happy and halcyon days which I joyfully spent at that great institution – the Attorney General’s Department where I honed my skills as a State Counsel, Senior State Counsel and later the Attorney General.

New Chief Justice Mohan Peiris (right) with some of the judges who were present to greet the former at his ceremonial sitting yesterday at Hulfsdrop Court Complex - Pic courtesy Government Information Department

Thank you Mr. Attorney for turning out with a large array of my former colleagues so collectively to wish me on a journey on which I can assure you the official Bar is bound to play its customary role in its true splendour with mutual respect and cooperation.

I gratefully acknowledge the wonderful words of praise and welcome that Razick Zarook, President’s Counsel, has extended to me on behalf of the Bar – a leading practitioner of no mean repute and a gentleman.

I must take this opportunity to acknowledge the presence of a large number of learned members of the Bar and friends inclusive of the President’s Counsel who have turned out today to accord me this warm welcome.

On a solemn occasion such as this I cannot help but recall an ancient religious text – the Babylonian Talmud, which reminds judges upon their appointment a word of wisdom: ‘Do you imagine that I offer you ruler ship? No. It is servitude that I give you.’ It is this sensitivity that pervades the sacred calling that I undertake today with the thought firstly as a Sri Lankan and secondly as a servant of the Sri Lankan people because it is the judicial power of the people I am sworn to dispense and discharge in the times ahead. Just as Legislative and Executive power is held in public trust, it is axiomatic that judicial power becomes the palladium of public trust in the hands of the Judiciary.

Mr. Attorney and Mr. Zarook, it is the inscrutable ways of providence and the allegory of the moving finger that writes on as Omar Khayam would have it, that have ineluctably brought me to the altar of the temple of justice but imbued with and buttressed by the mandates of law and fortified by the guiding dictates of my conscience, I resolve to answer the heavy responsibilities of judicial call with the same zeal and energy I expended on all that I engaged in as a counsel and at the end of that memorable and long journey as a member of the Bar, I would borrow and modify the last line of John Masefield’s Poem ‘Sea Fever’: “There will be no quiet sleep and sweet dream when the long trek as a practitioner of law in the service of my clients is over at last.”

Mr. Attorney, Mr. Zarook and learned members of the Bar, destiny might have brought me thus far but having traversed the trials and tribulations of a practitioner for well over three decades, I feel eminently suited to empathise with you in the pursuit of your cause and I can assure you that you can look upon me as a kindred soul though my role may have changed.

In the prosecution of my objectives as the Chief Justice, I shall seek guidance and precepts from the major faiths of our nation which singularly accord primacy of place to proper and righteous judicial conduct. These eternal verities stand as sentinels of holy truths which shed unshakeable beacons of light to judges in perpetuity.

The Dhammapada (Verses 256 and 257) teaches us that: Whoever judges hastily does not uphold the Dhamma. A wise man should investigate both the truth and the untruth. Those who judge others impartially, carefully, and in accordance with the Dhamma, will be protected by the Dhamma.

The Holy Bible (Leviticus 19:50) in turn shows us that: You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

This lesson is echoed eloquently in Holy Quran (Sura 4, Verse 135), which exhorts judges to: Stand firmly for Justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor.

The Hindu King Manu states that: Where justice is destroyed by injustice or truth by falsehood, Justice is violated and Justice, being violated, destroys; justice being preserved, preserves.

Within these holy teachings as enshrined as ever under various labels in diverse permutations in the legal system, we find the basic recipe for proper judicial conduct and exercise of proper judicial conduct also lies in conscious effort to neutralise the effect of personal philosophy and values in decision making.

However, neutrality does not mean apathy to the plight of the parties. Neutrality does not mean indifference with respect to democracy, judicial independence or human rights. Neutrality means fairness and impartiality. It means the confidence of the parties and the people in the judges’ moral integrity and their conviction that the judge’s sole motive is protection of law and not his own power or position.

Neutrality means giving weight to the arguments presented before the Judge regardless of the maker of those arguments. Everyone is equal before him.

The twin concepts of judicial independence and judicial accountability now stand crystallised in The Beijing Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, 1997 adopted at Manila by the Chief Justices of the Asia Pacific Region and The Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002. The essential values stated in the Bangalore Principles are: judicial independence, both individual and institutional, as a prerequisite to the rule of law; impartiality, not only to the decision itself but also to the process; integrity; propriety, and the appearance of propriety; equality of treatment to all; competence and diligence. It concludes with the need for effective measures to be adopted to provide mechanisms to implement these principles.

Mr. Attorney, Mr. Zarook and learned members of the Bar, you can be rest assured that as judges in an emerging Sri Lanka with a National Action Plan on Human Rights and a National Action Plan for reconciliation realising its goals in the near future of a plural society, my brothers, sisters and the entire Judiciary would consistently strive to educate ourselves about the way laws fall unequally upon different groups in the society. I can assure you that our vibrant legal system will contribute in a large measure to nourishing the reconciliation process and support the promotion and protection of human rights in its true context.

A judge in a pluralistic society would be alert, sensitive to the inequality of legal protection. In the words of Justice Michael Kirby, “In a pluralistic society a judge’s role is essentially seen as an equalizer. He serves neither the haves nor the have-nots. His duty is to the law and to do justice. He must ensure that diversity is respected and rights be protected.”

This was the dream of all when we conceptualised a new era of a rights-based society and in that long march to achieving social consensus and public confidence in the judicial system, justice would certainly not be a cloistered virtue under my dispensation, Mr. Attorney, and in this process a peaceful symbiosis between the Bench and the Bar is an indispensable concomitant.

I am confident that the Bench and the Bar will continue to be blessed with the wisdom to remain united and resolute, and to take one prudent step back, when necessary, in order that both may take two steps forward in the greater good.

I am deeply sensitive to the acute need to ameliorate the burdens that our legal system imposes, particularly on those of them who are less fortunate. We have to ensure that our legal system continues to facilitate their right to a dignified life and greater access to justice.

The synergy between the Bench and the Bar cannot lose sight of the all important cog-wheel in the chariot of justice, namely the junior Bar, who qualify in large numbers year in and year out. We owe them obligations of solicitous concern and patronage because they will inherit one day the legacies and heritage we would have passed them, when we are long gone.

It is legal skills and confidence we need to inculcate in the young counsel and the legal reforms should take on board the development and nourishment of the intellectual and legal skills of our committed band of promising attorneys. There should not only be growth in the number of entrants to the profession but it is the growth in the range and complexity of legal work to which both attorneys – senior and junior – must acquaint themselves with. I cannot achieve all this without your support and I solicit your constant support in order to accomplish all our goals which we hold so dear to our heart.

I am fortunate to have the expertise and experience of my brothers and sister judges who occupy your apex court and I begin my journey today in the comfortable thought that I enjoy the judicial company of a remarkable team.

This address would not be complete if one is not inclined to look back on an occasion such as this and let me indulge myself.

I recall with gratitude the whole array of my dear teachers both at Royal College, Colombo and St. Joseph’s College where my formative years as an impressionable young lad were moulded and nurtured by such a labour of love that I owe it to them for instilling in me the courage and dynamism that have stood me in great stead in all my endeavours at various fora.

My dear father has walked the distance along with me all these years in the nursing of his first born along with my late mother by providing a wholesome home full of love and affection and I am fortunate that I have his sage company today to witness me take this office. I say thank you to him for the wonderful years. I say thank you to my sister Sriani and brother Niran and their families for being there with me so steadfastly at all times and to all my family who have been so supportive through the years.

Let me pay tribute to the incredibly supportive role that my wife Priyanthi has constantly played throughout my career in the law. I say thank you to Priyanthi for playing her role so graciously and so efficiently. And undoubtedly it will be ever more so during my years as the Chief Justice of this Court. I also thank her parents, brother and sister and their families for their unconditional support. There is never a moment that passes without the fond memories I cherish of the pride and joy of our life Talia who left us so inconsolably at such a tender age, the feeling that she is still around us is assuring and that she is certainly watching over me today benignly as ever from those elysian fields. I pray her soul will enjoy the bliss of eternal life.

My friends in the public and the private sector who have been great sources of strength and support and I thank all of them for being such pillars of strength, without which what has now come to pass today would not have been easily achievable. In conclusion, let it be known that my door is open to anyone with a genuine and cogent reason to see me, and I am always willing to listen to anyone with the common good in mind for our legal system.

May I also convey my deep gratitude to the Reverend Clergy of the Maha Sangha, the Catholic Church, Christian churches and of other denominations for reposing in me their fullest confidence in my competency to deliver justice to all without fear or favour.

To all my Buddhist brethren, I wish them the protection and blessings of the noble Triple Gem, and to all my Christian, Muslim and Hindu brethren, I wish them the Almighty’s choicest blessings.

My thanks go out to all those who have come to wish me from far and wide.

To all those friends of the Bar and juniors who tirelessly associated themselves with me in my practice at the official and unofficial Bar, my gratitude goes out for their support and friendship.

My seniors with whom I worked deserve my deep and abiding love for their words of encouragement and deeds of kindness which made a world of difference.

To those who are unable to be here but have sent me congratulatory messages, I say a word of thanks. I wish each and all of you every success in your professional work so that we will retrieve our common goal of ‘One Sri Lanka and People’ and a nation in which we will all enjoy lasting peace.

Thank you.