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The President or the Members of the Constitutional Council (CC) should most certainly consider that seniority is not the only criteria in selecting the Attorney General (AG) as other factors such as integrity, honesty, competency and impartiality takes essential precedence well above seniority, attorney-at-law Upul Jayasuriya said.

Commenting on a contentious issue with substantial impact on the administration of justice and the rule of law without fear or favour, and in light of an opinion recently expressed by one time Secretary of the Ministry of Justice Nihal Jayawickrema, the former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka queried that if seniority was the sole criteria why should there be a CC to decide on it.

Then it should be a mechanical decision, he added. What importance should integrity, competency and honesty bear in making a proper selection, or should they play no role at all and give way to seniority as the sole consideration in this regard as stated by former Justice Secretary Jayawickrema, he questioned.

There is no doubt that competency as well as impartiality are two essential qualities a person should possess to be qualified to hold the post of the AG, he pointed out.

“Seniority should not be limited to a piece of paper. It should be coupled with actual experience with the number of years spent in the AG’s Department. If a person is released from the work of the AG’s Department and assigned a clerical job which otherwise could have been held by an administrative officer, can such experience be counted for seniority? Is it fair to count such experience gathered from a political appointment as against those who have been toiling hard with the day to day work of the AG’s Department? It is imperative that the professional conduct of the person who is to be appointed as the country’s chief law officer, the AG should be exquisite, unblemished and impeccable.

When applying such a standard, the yardstick cannot be merely of a mechanical nature as one solely of seniority. Have the law enforcement and legal agencies that have the responsibility to bring culprits before justice acted with due diligence? If not, was it due to their incompetency or the reluctance? What role has the officer who had to give the leadership and guidance to the junior officers at the time in question played? The professional training an officer in the AG’s Department had received while gaining seniority is certainly a factor that will count in his/her favour.

The sacrifices such officer had made while continuing in the public service and the past experience the profession, the society and the country went through when an outsider was entrusted with the task of carrying out the duties as the AG are valid factors to consider in making a final decision in this regard. The CC should be sensitive and should not turn a blind eye to the ground realities in making its decisions under the 19th Amendment which was enacted with the hope of restoring democracy and good governance. The legal profession hopes that the new AG shall be a person with an unimpeachable character who is able to give leadership to a Department, the reputation of which has been dwindling in the recent past,” Jayasuriya opined.