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Government Gazette

Justice Mark Fernando, a visionary judge

The Alumni Association of the Faculty of Law (AAFL) records with deep regret the passing away of its founder president and current patron, Justice Mark D.H. Fernando, on January 20, 2009. Justice Fernando was a legal luminary who graced both bar and bench in a long and illustrious career spanning more than four decades.

“He retired prematurely as a judge of the Supreme Court in 2005 but continued in the capacity of an advisor to both the Alumni Association as well as the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo - of which he was a distinguished alumnus, as well as in numerous other legal bodies both at home and abroad, that respected and valued his erudite legal jurisprudence and critical thinking.

Justice Fernando had his schooling at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, He then gained admission to the Faculty of Law, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya which was known as the University of Ceylon at the time.

Hailing from a family of legal scholars, (his father, HNG Fernando was a former Chief Justice and his grandfather W.M. Fernando also sat on the Supreme Court) he stamped his class by obtaining first class results and proceeding to take his oath as an Advocate of the Supreme Court in 1963. He was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court in 1985. He also served on (any international or local panels.

No other judge has perhaps contributed as much towards the progress of legal jurisprudence in this country as Justice Fernando. From Public Law to Fundamental Rights, from Property to Criminal Law, his razor-sharp intellect has produced judgments that are masterprices of contemporary critical legal thinking.

The originality of his opinions was characteristic of a willingness to always look beyond the black letter of the law and an unwillingness to merely follow precedent. His cutting-edge jurisprudence that analysed legal issues amidst socio-political realities and international legal obligations, were tinged with boldness to deliver justice and to uphold the rule of law at all time.

His premature retirement from the Supreme Court in 2005 as the longest serving judge on the bench at the time, resulted in an unfortunate and noticeable loss to the entire nation.

Justice Fernando was a visionary: he believed that legal education had to keep adapting to the changing needs of society. He foresaw that the face of legal education would change. From being a privilege confined to an elite few, he knew that one day it would become a subject embraced by hundreds.

However, these students would face difficulties when it came to apprenticing with a senior practitioner, since they knew no lawyers. It would be important to help them to find contacts with the legal fraternity. To this end, he initiated several projects through the Alumini Association that would help law students to build successful careers.

It was under his stewardship that the Internship Programme of the AAFL, which procured placements for students in the chambers of legal practitioners, law firms, private sector companies, banks, government institutions and in the non-governmental sector was begun.

Some of the other programmes included the mentoring of students by senior practitioners, an orientation session to the private sector etc. These initiatives were of immense help to students to construct meaningful working relationships and networks that would serve them in good stead in future practice.

Apart from this, he organised assistance classes for final year students in the Faculty who were sitting for the Law College Final exam and also offered constant and progressive suggestions for improving the LLB and LLM curricula at the Faculty of Law.

Justice Fernando was keenly committed to helping students to not only learn the rudiments of law in a pleasant and accommodating environment, but to improve their social skills as well.

Therefore, in addition to conducting sessions at the Orientation Programme for first year law students, the AAFL began to host the first years to welcome dinner upon entry into the Faculty and the final years to a farewell dinner just prior to their exit from it.

These events also helped the students to mingle with the seniors and benefit from their experience and advice. With a view to maintaining healthy relations among the legal fraternity, Justice Fernando also encouraged and ensured that a get together was organized annually by the AAFL bringing together alumni from around the country in a spirit of comradeship, to which those who are not alumni were also welcomed.

Despite being a giant in the legal field, Justice Fernando was a warm and empathetic human being who strove to help others as much as he could and expected nothing in return. His simplicity and meaningful way of life motivated others to contribute their utmost to make a difference in whatever the nature of the task that was undertaken.

Those of us privileged to have known him and worked under him understand that his death creates a void that can never be filled.”

We offer condolences to the family of Justice Mark Fernando.


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