|Thursday, 3 March 2005|
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva: undying legend
by Stanley E. Abeynayake
A brilliant criminal lawyer, historian of no mean repute, statesman, unsurpassed leftist, mass appealing silver-tongued orator, gentleman par excellence was Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who passed away on February 27, 1987 - sixteen years ago. He needs no introduction for his was a household name throughout the length and breadth of Sri Lanka.
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva contested and won the Wellawatte-Mount Lavinia constituency in the first parliamentary elections in 1947 as the Bolshevik Party candidate that had affiliations with the Bolshevik-Leninist Party (BLP) of India.
At the 1952 elections, he was defeated in that seat by S. de S. Jayasinghe of the UNP. He regained same at the 1956 elections as the LSSP candidate. In the Parliament of that year, he with the LSSP vehemently opposed the Sinhalese Only Bill.
He advocated the reasonable and sensible principle - 'two languages one nation, one language two nations'. The aftermath became a reality with Sinhala and Tamil as the official languages. He was able to retain the same seat at the 1960 elections as well.
To contest the Agalawatte by-election in 1967, hitherto the stronghold of Anil Moonesinghe, MP, he switched over to that electorate and was returned therefrom and again he won the Agalawatte seat at the 1970 elections.
In the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government, he was taken into the Cabinet as the Minister of Plantation Industries and Constitutional Affairs.
The drafting of the first Democratic Socialist Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka that the Constituent Assembly adopted and promulgated at the Nava Rangahala historically establishing Sri Lanka a republic was his stupendous, magnificent task, duty and performance to the country as a whole.
In this onerous commitment he was ably assisted by Constitutional Law experts of the calibre of Dr. Joseph A. L. (J.A.L.) Cooray, Dr. N. M. Perera, J. E. W. Jayawardena QC, M. Shanmuganathan etc. He was the best Advocate on the criminal side, both in the original and appellate courts.
There were some criminal lawyers who with their thundering, vociferous voice resorted to bullying, teasing and humiliating witnesses vexatiously at cross-examination during trials.
Advocate Dr. Colin R. de Silva was an exception. He was not so mean or unethical to do so for he powerfully but wisely wielded the rapier than the bludgeon. His repartees were full of wit and convincing with relish.
He knew where to draw the line. So tactful and patient was he that by his subtle cross-examination he got at all relevant facts for the defence.
When in England, he learnt very diligently court craft under giants of the Bar such as Blake Odgers, Charles Gill, Marshal Hall and Patrick Hartilog.
During the early stage of the LSSP he figured in the Mooloya hill-country estate Indian worker shooting and killing case by the police.
Then he appeared with success in the Bracegirdle Habeas Corpus application along with indomitable H. V. Perera, KC, the case of V. Kandasamy, the Health Department clerk who was shot dead by the police at the demonstration at Dematagoda during the historic general strike of May-June 1947 etc.
Then followed his successful defence in the very widely known Sathasivam murder case in which he made a name and gained fame, the Turf Club murder and robbery case commonly called 'Haralakshaya Mankollaya' - the robbery of Rs. 4 lakhs and murder of driver John de Silva, Whitehouse (an English planter) murder case, Peradeniya undergraduates attempted murder case of a police sergeant, during the hartal of 1953.
Biyagama 'Bellakapapuhandiya' - Siyambalape junction murder case, Dr. Dayman Kularatne arsenic poisoning murder case appeal, and the appeal in Ekanayake aeroplane hijack case. His appearance before Industrial Courts too were of significance in the field of industrial or labour law.
Before senor Justice T. S. Fernando QC of the Supreme Court he was felicitated on June 2, 1982 for completing 50 years at the Bar. Late Justice A. C. Alles of the Supreme Court remarked on the occasion of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva's demise that he was the greatest Advocate of our times.
Justice Alles went on further: "In an age when this country needs men of intellect and wide horizons who will rise above racial, caste and religious beliefs, the loss of leaders like Colvin R. de Silva is immeasurable."
Produced by Lake House