Repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is unwise at a time when religious extremism is widespread, warned UPFA Colombo District MP Udaya Gammanpila. He said this in response to the resolution on Constitutional Reforms presented to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) by NPC Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran.
The resolution proposed a separate State Parliament for the North and East. The resolution also calls for a withdrawal of the PTA.
“If circumstances call for it, the Act can be amended,” he said. He pointed out that there is no guarantee the LTTE threat has been completely eliminated. “Very recently six ISIS operatives have been discovered to be of Sri Lankan origin,” said Gammanpila, reiterating that it’s not just an LTTE problem.
Meanwhile legal experts claim that there is no justification for a separate legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act when Criminal law and the Penal Code have all necessary legal provisions in place. “The Prevention of Terrorism Act may facilitate abuse of power,” warned Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, A Sarveswaran.
“For example, under the provisions of the PTA a confession by a suspect is admissible in a court of law and it is at the judge’s discretion to accept it as evidence,” said Sarveswaran, reiterating that this could lead to abuse of the law. “But under normal law confessions are inadmissible.”
Transparency International Chairman, Lakshan Dias said that while confessions obtained under the provisions of the PTA were admissible in a court of law such could be challenged using voir dire (a variety of procedures connected with jury trials). For example the defence could challenge the confession on the basis that the confession has been obtained from the suspect by placing him or her under duress or had been coerced.
Although information and evidence obtained are as per Sections of the Evidence Ordinance were not admissible under common law and confessions obtained under the provisions of the PTA were allowed to be admitted in a court of law, the magistrate retains the soul and ultimate prerogative with regard to the admissibility of any evidence.