|Wednesday, 8 January 2003|
Violence and the deprivation of justice
by Nadira Gunatilleke
The word 'justice' has become one of the most commonly used words in Sri Lanka. People always seek justice. The common man seeks justice and when he is deprived of it he sometimes becomes violent. When powerful persons want justice they do not need to fight for it because justice just comes their way without a struggle due to their 'power'.
But depriving the common man of justice creates trouble and social unrest. Some times law and order is violated and taken into their hand by the masses. Justice is being sought through violence and 'suspects' are even murdered inside court premises or their family members and their property or whatever available is being destroyed. The most pathetic situation arises when the masses become violent and destroy valuable evidence that can be used to prove the offence of the perpetrator. Road accidents are a good example for this situation. Even public properties are not safe when violence erupts.
Several examples for this could have been noticed when social unrest was created just after several recent crimes rocked the country. Whenever a private bus runs over a child, pregnant mother or a student, the mob gathers and burns the bus, destroying all valuable evidence available for the inquiry. But the bus owners have already insured their vehicles and they get their money back while the victim gets nothing but pain and loss.
Why do mobs behave like this? Have they lost confidence in the judicial system of the country? What are the remedies for this situation? This is not a common scene in most foreign countries where most citizens are treated equally before the country's law. In those countries `justice' cannot be bought and people have faith in the country's law. We cannot see nature's famous concept `survival of the fittest' in most such societies.
It is common for litigants have to wait several years to get a judgement in court cases filed by them.
Sometimes they do not get the judgement within their life time. This trend has been in existence in the country for more than a few decades. The ultimate result of this is that the common man loses confidence in the law. As a result, sometimes people take the law into their hands whenever a serious crime takes place. On the other hand, people have been seeing the way notorious criminals escape by using legal or illegal methods after executing murders, rapes and other crimes. Frustration is the only result after seeing these anomalies and they also make the people violent.
Media play a major role in easing this situation. It has become the habit of the mass media to report the crimes and thereafter ignore later developments which sometimes end with the offender receiving adequate punishment. But the local mass media do not give vast publicity to such judgements in the way it gives publicity to crimes. This is also important.
When judgements are not publicized some tend to think that offenders get away without being punished.
Whenever a brutal crime takes place in the country a front page picture of the suspect appears while electronic media carry the incident as their lead story, but when criminals are being punished by the law such judgments get less publicity except for a few well-known court cases.
According to a recent Cabinet press briefing, the Government is planning to decentralise the functions of the Court of Appeal into four geographical zones to expedite litigation. The proposed devolution of the Court of Appeal will provide a practical solution for the delays in the issuing of judgements of District Courts and the hearing of the appeal.
This is the first time that regional Appeal Courts are going to be introduced to Sri Lanka. The setting up of these courts on a circuit basis, it is hoped, would minimise law's delays as the Court of Appeal is now hearing some cases first listed in 1994 and 1995. Cases listed for hearing will take at least 12 years to conclude. In this situation even the richest parties involved in these appeal cases will have to seek assistance of the Legal Aid Scheme to complete the cases.
This will only be one of the solutions for this serious problem. But laws delays will remain if the relevant authorities do not take necessary action to solve major issues, such as, accelerating court proceedings, introducing tougher laws and severe punishments for brutal crimes.
Introducing a proper monitoring system to look after the victims, their family members and the behaviour of criminals who have been re-integrated with the society, is also advisable.
Sometimes the mobs use 'opportunities' (immediate after a fatal road accident etc.) to express their anger and hatred towards certain social classes, communities or actions of the offending party.
Attacking private buses, attacking big businessmen's properties (after Inoka Sevvandi murder, for example) and attacking lawyers who appear for suspects are a few such occasions.
Controlling angry mobs will not be easy because it is similar to keeping a rubber ball under water.
Establishing a well disciplined society where all receive equal treatment is the only available solution. We cannot take this problem lightly any longer because violence has already tapped on the doors of schools and homes!
Produced by Lake House