There is at present an acute shortage of Tamil-speaking High Court Judges in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
In a statement issued by the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), President’s Counsel Geoffrey Alagaratnam in relation to the recent appointment of High Court Judge, R. Kannan and the private bar’s role in it, Alagaratnam said that the representations made especially by lawyers practising in the Eastern Province, over a period of one year, had been made at the meetings of the BASL’s Bar Council and Executive Committee.
The statement further notes that: “On several occasions, the said issue had been taken up at the regular meetings between the bench and the private (unofficial) bar held between members of the BASL, the Chief Justice and members of the Judicial Services Commission”.
At these meetings it had been indicated that there was a serious shortage of Tamil speaking career judges senior enough to be promoted to the High Court. The Attorney General’s Department too was unwilling to release Tamil speaking officers for such appointments due to the Department’s heavy reliance on the very few Tamil officers in its cadre.
Consequently, the Chief Justice had suggested that if members of the private (unofficial) bar from the said Provinces were willing to give up their practices and offer themselves for such appointments, they would be considered for posting outside the Province of their practice.
Meanwhile, continuous representations had been made to Alagaratnam by members of the BASL from the North and the East regarding the delay in appointing Tamil conversant judges to the areas. The delays were due in part to the retirement of two High Court Judges and a policy decision taken not to appoint retired Tamil conversant Judges as Commissioners, the latter aspect which had only served to aggravate the situation.
Delays cause hardship to litigants owing to the postponement of cases.
Alagaratnam explained that there had also never been a practice of the BASL’s Bar Council, Executive Committee or Branch Associations approving persons for recommendation for appointment to the judiciary (including the suitability of potential candidates for appointment as members of the minor judiciary) from the unofficial or private bar.
He noted that there has been no requirement for such a practice either and that the practice has instead been to seek recommendations from the leaders of the official and unofficial (private) bar.