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Sri Lanka: New Chief Justice Asoka De Silva

Sri Lanka: New Chief Justice Asoka De Silva Welcomed By Bench And The Bar

(The new chief justice Asoka de Silva was welcomed by the Bench and the Bar on 11th June at the Superior Court Complex at a ceremonial sitting. The address of the Chief Justice Asoka de Silva to the audience on this occasion is reproduced below - editor).

I thank you both Mr. Attorney, Mr. Dayaratne, The President of the Bar Association, for your gracious words of welcome and I thank all of you for your kind presence here today. As most of you may be aware, this is the fourth time that I am addressing you in the confines of these vast halls. First when I took office as a judge of the Court of Appeal in 1995, then as President of the Court of Appeal, then as Judge of the Supreme Court, and today, as Chief Justice. I take office with responsibility and confidence, as always.

It appears that our country is on the threshold of a new era and I know that you will join with me in the hope that peace will prevail and that this country will move towards a lasting stability with understanding, tolerance and contentment among its people.

Where the judiciary and the Bar are concerned we must all remember that we all have a common origin and the fates have dictated as to who should sit in judgement and who should guide and advise those who sit in judgement. That is the difference between the Bench and the Bar.

Where the Bench is concerned it is my view that it forms the backbone of any civilised society. If at any time the Bench is compromised society begins to deteriorate from within and will end in anarchy. With justice we value so highly, roaming the streets. As such the integrity of the judiciary must be nurtured and protected fiercely and jealously. To that end the Bar, both official and unofficial play a pivotal and indispensable role.

Where the judiciary itself is concerned its conduct must be such that in the transparency of its actions there is no room for any doubt of compromise.

It is then and only then, that the ideal state will emerge. Where people will walk without fear, confident in the belief that the guardian of their rights is forever vigilant and whenever moved, will act swiftly and fairly.

It is my view that to that end, among others, we need a strong Bar. As often said a strong Bar begets a strong Bench. By a strong Bar I do not in any way mean an irresponsible Bar, but one that will canvass its rights in the proper manner befitting an illustrious profession, and discharge its duties with due diligence and courtesy.

I have always maintained that courtesy is a two way road. It must be remembered at all times that our hearings are public and open except in the rare instance of in camera proceedings. It is my view that courtesy from the Bar will beget courtesy from the Bench and that even discourtesy from the Bar must yet beget courtesy from the Bench. Because the Judge is unmoved at all times in session. So, it is the business of Counsel who appear and the Judges before whom they appear, to maintain the decorum of Court however unpalatable it may seem at the relevant time.

Always remember that whilst we judge the individual and indeed the whole world judges us and in the final analysis we, the Bench and the Bar are both on trial at all times before the most unsympathetic and vindictive of juries the public whom we strive to protect. I may be permitted to draw your attention to a verse in Dhammapada. A man is not a just Judge merely because he arbitrates cases hastily without proper care. A wise Judge would investigate and give his decision without being partial.

Now, a word to the young lawyer: I am aware that the Bar is quite crowded and many a young lawyer finds very soon that he is floundering in deep water. I would like the young lawyers to contemplate on what I am about to say. I have associated with lawyers and judges young and old, local and foreign, for a considerable period of time.

I have sat in judgement in local as well as in foreign jurisdictions. The young lawyers who bolts out into the profession with the obsession of making money will make money. But he will not make himself and in due course may end up rich but unfulfilled, I have my reservations about the sensibility of the well worn instruction: ‘go out and build your practice’; the primary objective of the young lawyer is not to build a practice: it is to build himself. The practice will follow. It is difficult to bring down a practice which has pursued the man just as it is easy to bring down the man who has pursued the practice.

The one way to build yourself up is to study. The fact that you are out of Law College does not mean that your time of studying is over, on the contrary it has just begun. The successful lawyer never stops studying the law. When I used the term ‘successful’ I do not limited it to worldly success: it envelopes spiritual contentment as well.

The legal profession is constantly on the move and we must all keep up with it. It is imperative to remember that our legal system is not an orphan carrying on in isolation to the exclusion of other comparative systems, but, that we are part of a vast international legal system and as such it is necessary that we keep abreast of developments in the law in the international forum, critically analyse and apply them if suitable, ignore them if unsuitable, or reject them if found wanting.

To turn now to another matter concerning the immediate future: quite a number of lawyers, junior and senior, met me yesterday in Chambers to wish me well and to express their hope that I would safely navigate this noble vessel in which all of you are travelling with me, through all the troubled waters that we may encounter. ‘Yes’ I say to you, I will do so.

Considering the sum total of one aspect I gathered yesterday from my discourse with you please heed to what I am about to say; Our duty is to hear and determine. Yours is to guide and advice. Every one, quite understandably, wants a fair hearing.

But a fair hearing depends upon a fair delivery. Fairness is a mutual affair between Bench and Bar. If counsel makes ill prepared and slipshod submissions then firstly he is letting down his client and secondly he is letting us down, and finally he lets himself down. In a Court, there are very few things more invigorating to the ear and to the mind than hearing a well prepared delivery. So, he assured of a full and fair hearing. Let us also have the assurance of a full and fair delivery, and all will be well.

Once again, I thank you for your kind presence here today and for your good wishes.

I would be failing in my address if I do not mention with affection and gratitude, my school St. Anthony’s and its teaching staff, the Attorney-General’s Department which gave me the grounding and so paved the way for me to this present position. So also, my thanks to all those colleagues and friends who helped me in so many numerous ways in my times of anxiety and also to those who shared in my happiness in my times of achievement - specially my celebrations!

I must also mention here by appreciation of my wife Chintha, my children Channa and Kanishka for their patience and understanding and their steadfast encouragement to me on this long journey. And, I thank my parents for instilling in me the good qualities of life.

May God bless you.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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