The Bar Standards Board of the United Kingdom has decided to initiate a formal investigation into the professional conduct of Sir Desmond de Silva, Queen’s Counsel, over his role in Sri Lanka, based on a complaint by the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.The Bar Standards Board commenced its investigation on 20 July, and will probe the top barrister’s conduct for five weeks, authoritative sources told Daily FT. In an email, Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice Director Fred Carver confirmed that the UK Bar Standards Board had commenced an inquiry into the top lawyer.
Sir Desmond was appointed Chairman of the Advisory Panel of international experts to the Commission of Inquiry into disappearances. The appointment was made by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014. In August 2014, the mandate of that commission was extended to probe whether Sri Lankan Government forces had violated international humanitarian law during their operations during the final stages of the war.
According to the complaint lodged with the UK Bar Standards Board by Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, Sir Desmond had previously been instructed by the Sri Lankan Government to provide a written opinion to the Government in February 2014. The London-based Lawyer was asked by the Sri Lankan Government to provide advice on whether civilian deaths during the war were permissible collateral damage under international law.
Subsequently, the complaint states that Sir Desmond acts as Chairman of an advisory group to an independent commission of inquiry in Sri Lanka into missing persons and rights violations during the conflict.
Sri Lanka Campaign, in its complaint, argues that Sir Desmond should not have accepted the appointment to advise the Commission of Inquiry after being retained to provide legal advice to the Government of Sri Lanka.
While commissions of inquiry are independent bodies under Sri Lankan law, Sir Desmond would not be seen to be independent of the Government since he had already acted for the Government in a professional capacity by providing a written opinion on subjects being investigated by the Commission he was tasked with advising.
The Bar Standards Board is responsible for maintaining standards of the UK Bar by ensuring that barristers comply with their professional code of conduct.
The new Government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, which swept to power in January this year, has continued to retain Sir Desmond’s services as head of the advisory group to the Paranagama missing persons commission.
Yesterday a group of civil society representatives condemned President Sirisena’s Government over this decision. “We were therefore shocked that your Government – several Ministers of which were in the past scathingly critical of the lack of independence of these lawyers and the astronomical fees paid to them – has continued to retain the Advisory Panel chaired by Sir Desmond de Silva,” the open letter to President Sirisena by leading civil society activists said.
The representatives and organisations unreservedly condemned the Government’s continued retention of the Advisory Panel of international lawyers they said had been hired by the Rajapaksa Government to defend its record.
“This panel has further discredited a Commission of Inquiry that has failed to earn the confidence of victims and overburdened it with a mandate that was meant to address the overwhelming cases of missing persons from across Sri Lanka, raising serious questions about the willingness of the Government to address the issue of enforced disappearances,” the letter to the President said.
The grouping said that Sir Desmond’s continued role as Chairman of the Advisory Panel was simply untenable in light of a pending formal investigation being conducted against him by the Bar Standards Board.
“In light of these serious concerns, we urge you to rescind Sir Desmond’s appointment forthwith and to take steps to ensure the independence and integrity of state institutions,” the letter to the President stated. (Daily FT)