A statement has been issued by the Asian Jurists who attended a consultation organised by the Lawyers’ Collective of Sri Lanka and the Asian Human Rights Commission, on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers in Asia, from 9-11 April 2013, in Bangkok, Thailand. Jurists from 12 Asian countries, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea and Hong Kong attended the meeting.
In the statement they commented that the crisis of the Sri Lankan judicial system as a whole, is the result of a prolonged constitutional crisis, beginning with the misconceived notion of the supremacy of the parliament as opposed to the supremacy of law. Constitutional changes through the 1978 Constitution, fundamental notions of the rule of law and democracy have been displaced in favour of the absolute and arbitrary power of the executive president. The president is above the law and is able to change any aspect of the constitution without public consultation, by mere manipulation of parliamentary majority.
The jurist say that the Sri Lankan parliament under the present system is completely under the clutches of the executive president. The parliament has ceased to become a forum, where the legislature is subject to parliamentary debate, and instead has become a place where presidential directives are thumb printed. In the same manner, the ‘absolute power model’ enshrined in the constitution undermines judicial independence.
They say that a fundamental constitutional crisis of legitimacy in the country that has crippled the very structure of the state and that of governance. This situation is incompatible with the fundamental notions of democracy and the core values enshrined in the Latimer House Principles of the Commonwealth.
It also say that the crisis of democracy and that of the rule of law, adversely affects all the rights of the citizens. The courts are no longer in a position to protect the dignity and the rights of the individual. The courts are placed in conditions at which they are compelled to defend the state at whatever risk of repression that may be caused to the rights of individuals, including the property rights of the citizens.
The crisis of the rule of law has understandably led to a paralysis of the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan policing system is highly politicised and therefore is failing to be an effective mechanism for investigation and prevention of crime. Across the country, there are large numbers of complaints regarding the failure of the police to investigate even serious crimes. The loss of protection for property and person from crimes is one of the major problems facing the citizens of Sri Lanka today.