By Mike Andree
The incandescent fury emanating from the Executive Committee of the Bar Association glowed around ‘Lady Justice’. The fire they breathed would have even burnt the blindfold of the goddess of justice. Such was the wrath of the members of the Bar when the facts on the Mannar incident kept surfacing.
They condemned the manner in which ‘Lady Justice’ was attacked by the lord and master of the area. Finally, as many feared and few believed, the whole scenario, acted by the principal office bearers, after the initial outbursts of the Executive Committee, turned out to be a damp squib.
In order to appease the lord and the master, they took refuge in some constitutional provision and postponed assertive action, after the Bar Council had loudly and ponderously proclaimed “we cannot violate our own constitution.”
The unscrupulous instigators of the stone throwing incident and their black-coated agents, who looked to the high heavens and held prayer meetings, but to no avail, smiled when the Bar subverted the noble path, they had undertaken, to bring justice to and protect the very institution through which they earn their living. The agent provocateurs found they needed no divine intervention, as a few telephone calls would suffice for the so called saviours of our Judicial independence to lay prostrate with their listless inaction exposed to the world. The cunning expounded the theory of sub-judice in order to prevent a meaningful dialogue.
A former president of the Bar articulated, in his own inimitable style, in Singlish, against the communal disharmony displayed by certain ethnic groups, but his discourse, as always, had been delivered with the lack of basic grammatical and phraseology skill of the Queen’s language, that no one ever understood the meaning or his message, except that it would land the Bar in a communal cauldron.
Thus, the oxymorons won the day, but there was, in the murky waters, a beacon of light which emanated from the brave fortitude of some members of the Bar, who could not be inveigled out of a situation by dangling favours or fearful repercussions.
One, a lady from the historic city of Galle and another, a true President’s Counsel, along with others members signed affidavits and forwarded them to Court seeking to frame a Rule for contempt against all wrongdoers.
The Patriarch of the Bar, Romesh de Silva PC and Ikram Mohammed PC, both ex-presidents of the Bar Association, came to the forefront, while the office bearers still lay shuddering, and decided to support the petitions in Court of the group of lawyers. If not for them ‘Lady Justice’ would have been hanged, drawn and quartered and the Bar Association would have to administer the last rights.
It would now be a question, which will not escape the minds of independent people, who do not belong to the legal fraternity, why the Bar Association should approve and issue, to the press, a badly worded resolution. It read ‘The Executive Committee at today’s emergency meeting also decided to call upon every member of the Bar in every court to refrain from attending and appearing in court to have a sign of solidarity with the judicial officers and the respect we have for the Courts”.
This would mean that, as members respect the Judicial officers and Courts, they should refrain from attending Court. The resolution drafted by the elite members of the legal profession, including a President’s Counsel as its president, had failed to mention the date or the dates, on which the members should refrain from attending Courts. The true meaning, as understood by layman, would infer that the lawyers would refrain from attending Court till dooms day.
The cynics said that Bar did not refrain from attending Courts, but was forced by the decision of the Judicial Services Association and not because of a resolution, that did not even specify a date or dates on which members should refrain from attending Courts. The moment the judges sat, every one appeared in Court.
The resolution added “We unreservedly stand behind the judiciary and will always endeavour to support it whenever any threat to it is perceived.” I would like to ask the members of the Executive Committee, of the Bar Association, whether they would support the judiciary only when a threat is perceived. The reasons for their turncoat attitude was that in Mannar, the threat was not perceived but carried out violently and vigorously endangering the life and limb of the Magistrate and High Court Judge.
The talk of the town was that the Bar Association would not honour the resolution approved unanimously and adopted by the executive committee and would not initiate contempt proceedings against the wrongdoers. The Bar Association did take the initial step and instructed President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva, a host of other eminent Presidents’ Counsels and a team of lawyers to prepare contempt papers.
Any doubt about the guilt of Minister Bathiudeen, on the available evidence, was weighed very carefully and when the team of lawyers was certain that a Prima facie case was established, the decision to file action was taken. The papers were ready within a very short time.
But, when the proxy and the other papers, including an affidavit, were submitted to the office bearers, the President and the Secretary back tracked and decided not to sign the papers until the matter was ratified by the Bar Council. Many believed that this was to checkmate the filing of a contempt case in the Court of Appeal. The lawyers, who were instrumental in drafting the plaint and connected papers, then decided to file the papers on their own.
This is not the first time the Bar has jilted the judiciary and the ordinary people of this country. During the time of JRJ, when his goons threw stones at judges’ houses, a meeting of the general body of the association was summoned and the president at that time, President’s Counsel A. C. de Zoysa, decided that proper notice had not been given and the meeting was deemed unconstitutionally summoned and dismissed.
Some members said that though the Bar Association back tracked, its decision to intervene in the application by the group of lawyers would have in a way stumbled the agents of the Minister who were present in large numbers and would have even out-voted the resolution and even if the resolution was adopted, there was the possibility of the office bearers of the Bar wilting under pressure and doing the unthinkable.
Those who gave silly constitutional excuses, that day would in the future, when the heat of the matter has died down, come to an amicable settlement almost exonerating the Minister.
The present group of lawyers, who are the petitioners, firmly believe that the freedom of the people rests on an independent judiciary. That would mean justice to the people, not only to the Executive or the State, but to the thousands of poor litigants who file cases against the State. These petitioners therefore will ensure that the case would be fought to the bitter end.
When the history of the Bar Association is written, the historians would refer to the abject cowardly surrender of the people’s right by the management committee of the association. But they will also refer to those few lawyers, including a President’s Counsel, who braved storms and racial overtones to file the petition which had originally been intended to be signed by the President and Secretary of the Bar Association.
As the years go by, people would say “here are a few honest lawyers who truly and consciously supported the independence of the judiciary.” When it comes to the BASL of today they would say “It is very strange”. courtesy: The Island