Lawyers highlighted that the proposal by the Minister of Justice Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe to grant detainees the right to access a lawyer prior to being presented before a Magistrate, which was approved by the Cabinet was not in compliance with the country’s human rights obligations.
Attorney-at-Law Gehan Gunatilleke said that an arrested person must be given the right to access a lawyer immediately following his/her arrest, and not subsequent to the first statement being recorded.
Allegations of torture arise during the first statement and initial interrogations, he noted.
This is why the directives of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) are important, he remarked, noting however that the said directives did not possess the force of law.
Amendments to the law should guarantee the right to access a lawyer before the arrest takes place, so as to safeguard against coercive interrogations and self-incrimination as the arrested person must have access to legal counsel so s/he knows his/her rights, and is advised on how to respond to the Police’s questions, he pointed out.
“Elsewhere, the HRCSL statistics revealed that last year there was 413 complaints. The HRCSL has received 311 complaints at their head office and a further 102 at regional offices in 2015 alone. In the first three months of this year, the HRCSL has already received 48 complaints at their head office and a further five at their regional offices. This is according to a Human Rights Commissioner. This is a very high number, and thereby underscores the need to guarantee immediate access to lawyers,” Gunatilleke observed.
Dr. Rajapakshe was not available for a comment.