The ceremonial sitting of the 45th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka | Sunday Observer

The ceremonial sitting of the 45th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka

Priyasath Dep PC, the 45th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka
Priyasath Dep PC, the 45th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress’. - Dr. Martin Luther King

On 10 March the ceremonial court, courthouse 501, of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka witnessed the solemnity of the ceremonial sitting of the 45th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, His Lordship Priyasath Dep PC. The occasion of a ceremonial sitting of a Puisne Judge is one of great dignity and depth where both, the Bench and the Bar reaffirm with ceremoniousness their cooperation towards the common goal of delivering justice.

After the ceremonial arrival of the judiciary and mutual bows of courtesy were exchanged between the Bench and the Bar, the ceremony began with the speech of the Attorney General, Jayantha Jayasuriya PC. The leader of the official Bar delivered a fine address which among other aspects touched on the role and duty of the office of Attorney General to protect and preserve for future generations the office of the country’s chief legal officer. The AG is after all the statutorily designated legal advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers and his office carries a pivotal function in the sphere of law and order.

Giving insight to the beginnings of the office of the AG in the country, from the days of British colonial administration, the AG cited words from a judgement by the late Chief Justice N.D.M Samarakoon QC (who is generally known as Neville Samarakoon, his initials standing for –Neville Dunbar Mirahawatte) with regard to the status and purpose of the Attorney General. Those judicious words pronounced the Attorney General as the Leader of the Bar, and the sole objective of this office is to establish the truth. The AG noted how the Bench and the Bar work towards one goal through different roles, to achieve justice. He cited the need for an internal mechanism for enhancing the efficacy of the court system, which is a need of the times.

In offering his felicitations to the present CJ , the AG noted the career milestones that saw His Lordship Priyasath Dep PC rise from his position as a State Counsel to his appointment as the head of the country’s judicature, which included the office of Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General. The AG extolled the CJ as an able prosecutor and appellate court counsel while in the AG’s Department. He said, the simplicity of character borne by the CJ was admired by all and that his patience and firmness during his career in the official Bar and subsequently as a Supreme Court judge, has been rewarded with his appointment as the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

In his speech, the AG noted the impressive academic record of the CJ which includes –A Bachelor’s degree in Development studies from the Colombo University, as well as a Postgraduate diploma and Master’s from the same hallowed establishment for higher education. Among the disciplines of education which the CJ has been exposed to in his academic journey are the subjects of International Relations and Forensic Science. The CJ also possesses a postgraduate diploma from the University of Rotterdam, and through the cordial relations he established with that revered institute of higher learning he was involved in numerous seminars connected to that university and had played an active role in the seminar program that marked the commemoration of 400 years since the Dutch established contact with Sri Lanka.

The AG said, the CJ was also a sportsman during his school days and displayed his talents in rugby and athletics. He ended his address assuring the CJ every cooperation on his part and quoted the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, thus: ‘Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress’. Following the AG, the president of the Sri Lanka Bar Association (BASL) at the time, Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC spoke. Demonstrating mastery in tone and diction the elected head of the private Bar made a mighty fine speech, exemplary in impressive speech craft. The BASL president said, the appointment of CJ was a position richly deserved by his lordship who was hailed for having maintained independence of office throughout his career in both, the official Bar and the Supreme Court. The speech of the BASL president touched on a number of significant topics, among which, was the need for efforts by all citizens to ensure that the horrors of conflict which were fanned and fuelled to gruesomeness by extremists from both sides of a communal divide, do not surface again. He said, democracy is far too precious to be left in the hands of politicos of any colour. And that, the acceptance or recognition of Fundamental Rights is meaningless, unless worked towards ensuring their preservation, in which the state must be effective. It is a huge task he said, with the increasing numbers joining the legal profession every year, to maintain high standards, and elaborated that the Law is not the bread and butter of lawyers and that it is a service that must be rendered, and though setbacks may occur, it is the duty of the members in the legal profession to try to leave a lasting legacy. Commenting on how persons, positions and offices at times attract criticism for failing to fulfil their duty, the BASL president said, the Bar should be independent of personal possessiveness.

With a few lines he reminisced playing Rugby with the present CJ when they were students at the University of Colombo and said, those days saw them taking both victory and defeat as sportsmen and thereby learnt how to drink the spirit of the adage –‘it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game’. Those lessons he said, should help meet life’s vicissitudes with grace. The BASL president ended his speech commenting on how the CJ has through his character and conduct earned the admiration and respect of all, indicating that his lordship to be exemplary of the final, with which he ended his speech –“Respect should be earned and commanded than demanded.”

All non judicial members rose in deference as the Chief Justice addressed the gathering, responding to the two felicitation speeches extended him. His lordship said, the most important requirements for a judge to ensure that justice is done, are knowledge and diligence. He cited a source named Hamilton on what forms the basis of the power of the judiciary and quoted –“The judiciary has no purse or sword, its support comes from the people.” This statement touches on, I believe, how the judiciary’s function in a democracy is the exercising of a sovereign people’s judicial power on their behalf. Towards the end of his address he cited gratitude for his late parents, siblings, teachers, colleagues, mentioning especially, the Father Rector and teachers at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s College Colombo.

His lordship mentioned that his late father who was a Deputy Inspector General of Police and Acting IGP, had inspired and guided him in his formative years. Both, the AG and the BASL president in their speeches mentioned how the late DIG Dep was an officer of immense integrity and independence.

One afternoon in April last year, while browsing through books at the Godage Book emporium in Maradana, I came across a Sinhala publication of a collection of folk poetry (kavi) that relates to the dying tradition and culture of wasp (Bambara) honey gathering in the Uva Province.

This book which I bought that day is a Sinhala translation of a work by the retired DIG Wewage Arthur Charles Cleetus Dep, the father of the present Chief Justice. The paternal legacy of the CJ’s late father is one that includes an impressive body of work as an author who has written on subjects that include, among others, the history of the Sri Lanka police, Egyptian exiles in Sri Lanka, as well as the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. I feel it is fitting in this article to cite a poem from the book of the late father of the CJ, which speaks of the natural bond between flowers and wasps and how their honey is a salutary outcome to the people.

Vananthare gasvala mal pipenne
Niranthare avidin ron geniyanne
Sitina thena thamai rasa peni bandinne
Bambaru thamai apitath peni devanne.

I shall conclude this article by saying, like the grateful speaker in the poem who sees the affinity between wasps and flowers as natural and one that produces sweetness, the people too shall surely look upon with gratitude at an independent judiciary that delivers justice, which will surely become a sweetness upon the good senses of the people. 

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