The State of Sri Lanka, which was in a condition of degeneration caused by the persistent neglect of essential reforms, is collapsing before our eyes. The judiciary can be said to have become the new victim of this historic process.
Of the three major power centers in a democratic State, usually it is the judiciary which is generally considered to be the one that is the most conservative and not easily prone for reforms.
This incident can be considered as an important historical fact relevant to the judiciary in Sri Lanka which has not received the attention it deserves, of anyone before. Under the circumstances, it is important that we explain at least briefly, how this historic event has evolved for two reasons; one is that it is an essential condition for understanding the crisis facing the judiciary in Sri Lanka and the path to be chosen to overcome it; the other is my direct involvement in revealing this incident. It was I who initiated the process and followed it up.
On August 17, 1997, the Ravaya, for the first time, carried headline news on an incident in which a magistrate attached to the judiciary had taken a young woman to Gampola Rest House and abused her sexually. The woman happened to be the wife of a respondent, who was in remand custody regarding a case being heard by the said Magistrate.
On 21st August, a group of 9 Buddhist monks conducted a prayer at the Aiyanayaka Devalaya at Deduru Oya invoking the blessings of the God Aiyanayaka on the Magistrate and curse on me; and it was reported in the Divaina newspaper as a leading news item. In a press release issued by the group of monks, the magistrate had been introduced as a man of the age bequeathed to the people of the North Western Province by the Judicial Service Commission.
I was able to find out that Lenin Ratnayake had worked as a clerk in the Insurance Corporation prior to joining the judiciary and been dismissed from the service on account of a fraud involved in a number of third party insurance claims. I reported this revelation in the Ravaya newspaper on August 24.
Attorney General Sarath Silva
One day in the first week of October, Police Investigator Vaidyasekera came to my office and took a statement from me in regard to the criminal investigation initiated under the complaint made by Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake against me.
The police investigator had already obtained a statement from the woman concerned and also had probed into the truth of the insurance story as well. Based on these findings it was not possible to conduct a criminal investigation against me except for initiating legal action against the Magistrate. The Inspector of Police had requested the necessary instructions from the Attorney General for that. That is where the great conflict between me and the Attorney General that eventually led to shake the judiciary, begins.
If the Attorney General had been a person with a sense of the law and the esteem of the judiciary, the facts revealed in that inquiry report about the Magistrate should have shocked him. He should have been exasperated by the fact that a person kicked out of a State institution on a financial fraud had joined the judiciary by hiding the facts about his previous employment. The incident in which the Magistrate had taken a female respondent of a case heard by him, to a rest house and abusing her should have angered him.
But the revelations of this investigation have not caused any shock in the Attorney General. It is possible that he was related to this Magistrate and also there may have been an interrelationship between the two, on the subject of women.
Instead of enforcing the law against this disgraceful Magistrate, the Attorney General pursued a policy of protecting him. In this backdrop, I met the Minister of Justice (Mr. GL Peiris) and complained about it. He inquired about it from the Attorney General.
District Judge Upali Abeyratne
With that, I probed into the conduct of the Attorney General. A number of interesting episodes came to light as a result thereof. One of the most important findings is as follows.
This judge is none other than the Chairman of the Presidential Commission appointed by President Sirisena to probe into the corruption charges against the Yahapalana regime, and then the Chairman of the Presidential Commission appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to look into alleged political victimisation of public servants. Upali Abeyratne is also the head of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP).
In view of these developments, I turned my voicing into a great clamor against District Judge Upali Abeyratne and Attorney General Sarath Silva without limiting it to Lenin Ratnayake only.
The Bar Association
In this instance, it is commendable that the Bar Association did not take a stand against me in favor of the two judges and the Attorney General. Instead, a meeting of former presidents of the Bar Association was convened and called for an inquiry to take up the allegations made against me for argument and investigate them.
Accordingly, the Judicial Service Commission appointed two three-member inquiry panels consisting of the Judges of the Court of Appeal. Upali Abeyratne pleaded guilty for the charges leveled against him.
Justice turned upside down
After the two judges were found guilty by two independent panels of judges, both of us (myself and the chemical engineer) filed two complaints against Attorney General Sarath Silva on corruption charges.
By this time, President Chandrika was in a great crisis. She used to perceive the Supreme Court as an institution working against her. Her focus was primarily on the next presidential election and the ensuing lawsuits likely to be faced in connection with the election.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had the ability to correct the grave mistake committed by President Chandrika to the judiciary. The president of the International Bar Association (Lord Brennan) met with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and remarked that keeping this chief justice in the office might act as a cancer, destroying the quality of the judiciary.
If it was not for these parties, Marak Fernando would have become the Chief Justice of the country. Had it been so, the country would have got a better and strong judiciary and even made a remarkable change in the degeneration of the State as well.