The Sunday Leader

Executive Vs Judiciary: The Debate Continues

By Dinidu de Alwis and Chrishanthi Christopher

The attack on the Judicial Services Commission Secretary Manjula Thilakaratne has created an intense discussion on the country’s judiciary and the balance among the executive, judiciary and the legislature.
Unknown assailants attacked Thilakaratne last week after a communiqué was issued by the Judicial Services Commission about alleged interference into the independence of the judiciary.

Lawyers protesting at Hulftsdorp over the assault on Judicial Service Commission Secretary Manjula Thilakaratne

Several trade unions and civil society groups condemned the attack, with think-tank Center for Policy Alternatives saying that this “is the latest episode in a series of intimidating and sometimes violent attacks on the judiciary and a direct threat to its independence in post-war Sri Lanka.” In his statement to the police after the assault, Thilakaratne says that he was inside the car with the shutters up, and four individuals came and at once hit the shutter.
A pistol was pointed to his head. Then they reportedly hit him on the forehead with the grip of the pistol and another individual attacked him with an iron rod. He says that another member of the group also had something resembling an iron rod. While the pistol was held to his chest, another from the group repeatedly assaulted him. All this happened with the leader of the group questioning, “are you the judicial secretary?” Whilst it may go down in the recently violent history of Sri Lanka as just another incident, several key legal and political figures voiced their opinion on the matter on this week’s Forum of The Sunday Leader.

Sarath N. Silva Former Chief Justice

The attack on Manjula Thilakaratne is a very sad thing. It was an attack on a public road and a harmless person was brutally attacked. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate.
The intimidation was to send a message: if you don’t fall in line, this is what you get. That’s a very sad thing. The members of the judiciary are vulnerable, and they don’t have loads of security.
It is extremely unfair and grossly uncivilized to attack the judiciary. There have been incidents where people have thrown excreta at judges, but those are extreme cases. This is something different as this comes in the wake of a statement by the Judicial Services Commission alleging interference, and this is a calculated move.
If there was an issue of attempting to influence, the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission is not the person to issue it. It has to be the judiciary itself – either the justices of the Supreme Court who should have dealt with it, and a certain amount of discretion had to be used. Some in parliament is criticizing the judiciary, and there are signs of open clashes. The  Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary must function at optimum. Clashes such as these damage the confidence of people in all elements. This creates a very bad image that the highest institutions are clashing with each other.

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Gomin Dayasiri Senior Lawyer

It is intolerable. Either party or a third party to further disputes between the Executive and the JSC could have been instrumental in this ghastly act are the prevailing schools of thought. It is a prime necessity for the State after the incidents of Duminda, Malaka and Mannar to find the culprits to come clean since a firm finger is pointed at them too. It’s only the State that has the machinery to investigate. It’s tricky since the guilty party may prefer this remains an unsolved mystery? How smart are our investigators if false trails are provided to mislead? My preference is to co-opt foreign investigators for the sake of transparency.
Contents in the statements made by the JSC to the media, deciding to be distant from the executive and on the threats originating from that source must be taken as of merit. If this golden rule of distance had been followed at all times much could have been averted. It’s better late than never – and hopefully adhered as intended in the future. Public should wait and watch. But these issues should have been solved at ground level by discussion rather than broadcasting to the world because the publicity caused an escalation that is not good for the country’s image. I feel both the Executive and the JSC have acted irresponsibly without putting the country first. Responsible institutions must think twice and act in the interest of the country.

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MP Lakshman Kiriella UNP

The attack on the secretary to the Judicial Service Commission is an attack on the judiciary itself and the government is responsible for the attack.  Only the government can commit such violent acts against a high-ranking member of the judiciary. Who could bring pressure on a Supreme Court judge other than the government? Manjula Thilakaratne had complained of receiving threats on him and his family by text messages and phone calls just before the attack. This shows that there is intimidation on people dealing with justice. They are trying to control the judiciary indirectly.
Now the police, the Public Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission are all under the executive. The police are under the executive. Will it investigate? The Attorney General’s Department is also under the government – will they do a proper investigation on the issue? The people have lost faith in the judicial system in this country – the only place they can go for justice is closed. As a result there is a tendency for people to become violent.

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Sunil Watagala Vice President, People’s Lawyers Association

The government is indirectly interfering with the independence of the judiciary. This is not an attack on Manjula Thilakarante but on the judicial service itself. They want to remove the present secretary of the Judicial Service Commission and place their henchman there.
The government knows those who are responsible for the attack, but is silent. This is not a minor matter – the public trust on the judiciary is eroding. The government is having double standards. Rishard Bathuideen and Mervyn Silva happily throw stones, tie people to trees and get away with the crimes but if a Siripala or Thangamani commits a small offense, they are punished.  They are using the law according to their convenience.

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MP Vijitha Herath JVP

We are deeply concerned. The assault follows Manjula Thilakaratne’s complaint to the media and the people that he had received several threats to his life. We think there is a link between the two.
The main reason for this kind of situation is the abolishing of the 17th Amendment. The 18th Amendment, which was passed, instead gives the Executive the power over the judiciary and the parliament.
There is no checks and balances in the institution now. The government is responsible for the attack. This is a well-planned attack.
A normal person cannot do this. This is law of the jungle. The government has to take responsibility for the incident. The government wants take the judiciary power. The government wants to pass the Divi Neguma Bill by hook or by crook.
The public’s faith in the judiciary is deteriorating.

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