“Major shortage of court typists – paltry pay blamed,” – Chairman of the Legal Affairs (Anti-Corruption) and Media Parliamentary SOC, MP Ajith Mannapperuma
Expounding upon the maxim, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, Warren Earl Burger outlined that if the people came to believe that inefficiency and delay would drain even a just judgment of its value, that courts could not vindicate their legal rights when they became victims of injustice and that the law could not fulfill its primary function of protecting all persons as they went about their daily lives, such a situation would destroy the sense of confidence the people had in the courts, the latter which is essential in order to maintain ordered liberty for a free people, and would in turn result in incalculable damage being wrought upon the society. Sri Lanka is faced with the very same quandary. Chairman of the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs (Anti-Corruption) and the Media, United National Party MP Ajith Mannapperuma spoke to The Nation regarding the Government’s immediate plan to address laws delays.
Q : How does the Government understand the issue of laws delays?
The general timeframe for justice to be meted out, from the time a case is filed till the trial concludes, not taking into account any subsequent appeal, is 10 and a half years. There are certain cases which finish within one to two years while there are others which take 30 to 40 years to end. There are also instances where the cases come to a standstill over matters pertaining to the Attorney General’s instructions, where the Attorney General finds himself in a tight spot for various reasons. This is a major problem for the people. Sometimes justice is meted out by courts, not during the victim’s lifetime but during that of his/her child/children or grandchild/grandchildren. Sometimes, the answer to the injustice a victim faced is provided to the victim’s grandchild/grandchildren.
In the case of the rape of a child, sometimes, the victim is a grandmother by the time justice is done. Therefore, because of the massive expenditure that has to be borne by the litigants and the inconvenience, the latter resulting in the waste of time, people even if they do believe in the legal process, are reluctant to pursue action. One’s spine chills when one hears of such cases of injustice owing to the lengthy time period taken. People lose faith and trust in the system and even if they did have faith in and placed trust in the system, if such a long time is taken, there is no point in the result.
The law must be elevated to a special place in this country. The country has an issue of the law not being implemented. The law is like a spider’s web. Small creatures get trapped in the web while big creatures breakthrough the web. No Government has made a considerable investment towards addressing the issue of cases being delayed, for the reason that they could not garner votes by addressing the problem. That is why this issue remains hidden. The incumbent Government came into power espousing yahapalanaya (good governance). What is initially required to establish such is that justice must be meted out within a short time period. There is no point if justice is done after a lengthy period has elapsed. There was a recent case where a Policeman was acquitted after being in remand for five years. Therefore, this is an important factor in establishing yahapalanaya. The judiciary is very important. Also, there is a major allegation against the yahapalana Government that it is taking time to catch thieves. This is a big issue. A successful and quick mechanism is one answer to such. An urgent mechanism is required. The mechanism must be fast-tracked.
Q : What was the work done by the Committee?
This is why the Committee decided to present a special report regarding the issue. All stakeholders involved in the law and in justice including experts, top officials from State institutions, the Police, law officers of the Attorney General’s Department, persons heading the private sector and Committee members including Attorneys-at-Law such as Deputy Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, Ajith P. Perera and President’s Counsels, MPs Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne and M.A. Sumanthiran, met and conducted a number of discussions to look into why the general timeframe could not be brought down to two and a half years. Everyone said that this could be done. However, facilities are required.
Q : What are the salient points proposed and recommended in the report?
The first involves new technology being incorporated in the process of meting out justice. We still have the colonial system. Other sectors have bypassed the courts in this regard. Courts still use typewriters and typists. There is especially a major shortage of typists at present. One of the reasons for this is that the salary paid to typists is insufficient. Thus, typists join the State, receive the training and leave. The other reason for this is that it is a dying vocation. Only the Parliament and the courts employ typists. Typists in the Parliament are however paid a good salary. The second involves cases being heard in the morning and in the afternoon. Right now, it is only in the morning that cases are being heard. In this regard, it is essential that the support of the Attorney General’s Department be obtained quickly. Certain cases are not heard on the dates on which the said cases are taken up for trial, due to the unavailability of reports to be submitted by the Attorney General’s Department. The victim however pays his or her lawyer for the appearance on the said dates despite nothing taking place. There is a big shortage of about 130 State Counsels. State Counsels must be recruited. There must be room to accommodate them. Until a place is built, a building can be rented immediately and the State Counsels can be trained. The salaries of law officers holding the positions of Senior Additional Solicitor General, Additional Solicitor General, Senior Deputy Solicitor General and Deputy Solicitor General must be elevated to a better scale so that they can do their jobs with pride. Those in the Attorney General’s Department are persons with expertise and special knowledge. They have to be recruited fresh out of the Faculties of Law or the Law College. They cannot have dealings with others. They have to be uncorrupted. That is why those who have practiced in the private sector for a certain time period are not taken into the Department. This is because one develops various relationships when in the private sector.
Q : When will these proposals and recommendations be implemented?
The report has been presented to the Parliament, President Maithripala Sirisena and the relevant sections of the society. The mechanism must be put in place in six months. We will make aware, Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister of Justice Thalatha Atukorale and the Treasury. Sirisena has given us a pledge that this will be done in six months. We have to now formulate and prepare the mechanism. In doing so, many policy decisions will have to be taken. We will need money released from the Treasury, for an example, for the purpose of recruiting persons to carry out the tasks in the recommendations made in the report. Therefore, the blessings and enthusiasm of State and Government high ups is essential for the success of this.