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
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.