MAKING slit-throat gestures at Tamil protesters was part of the job description for Sri Lanka’s military attache in London, Westminster Magistrates Court heard today (Mar 1).
Barrister Nicholas Wayne made the extraordinary argument in defence of his client, Brigadier Priyanka Fernando.
The soldier was caught on camera running his fingers across his throat while standing guard outside the Sri Lankan High Commission last year. The Brigadier left the country days later.
A British judge has since found him guilty of causing “harassment, alarm and distress” to Tamil complainants who brought a private prosecution, but the Brigadier claims he has diplomatic immunity.
The court heard for the first time today that Mr Fernando was operating under a 10-part job description, which included safeguarding “the High Commission premises during any protests.”
Mr Wayne argued that the slit-throat gestures fitted with his client’s job description, a claim that failed to convince chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot.
The judge noted that the job description required Mr Fernando to “strictly adhere” to “personal behaviour and professional standards.”
In her findings, the judge said “it was not part of his job description to draw his fingers across his throat on the three occasions he is said to have done that, and therefore he is not covered by the Vienna Convention.”
As such, the court found that Mr Fernando cannot rely upon diplomatic immunity to quash his conviction for public order offences.
Mr Wayne then made an application under section 142 of the Magistrates’ Court Act to have the case reopened on three grounds.
He argues that there was an “abuse of process,” that the trial proceeded in the absence of the defendant and that the prosecution did not serve the summons correctly.
The judge adjourned the hearing and will consider the defence’s application on March 15.
The court previously heard testimony from the Tamil complainants who said Sri Lankan diplomats repeatedly threatened and harassed them in London.
Their claims are strengthened by point one of Mr Fernando’s job description, which tasked him with “monitoring any anti-Sri Lanka activities in the UK and reporting to … Intelligent [sic] agencies in Sri Lanka.”
The soldier was also expected to “establish contacts with appropriate defence and intelligent [sic] agencies in the UK.”
Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 has monitored Tamil separatists in London since at least 1981.