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Outgoing Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, PC:

He did a lot to judiciary and litigants alike

Cheif Justice Sarath N. Silva had the unique experience of drafting a legislative enactment while travelling aboard a flight.

The High Court Special Provisions Law was drafted by the Chief Justice in a plane whilst he was on his way to China for an official function.

“This is undoubtedly a great achievement in the annals of legal history,” Senior Attorneys said. The Chief Justice thus prevented the litigants coming from all parts of the country to Colombo Appellate Courts amidst severe travails and tribulations.


The mother blessing the son, Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC, on the day he was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka in September 1999. File photo: Dudley Wickremasinghe

The poor litigants spending hard earned money sometimes spent their nights at the bus stands or on the pavements in Colombo to see their lawyers and attend Courts. When they come to Courts, they have no place to sit and wait and what happens in Courts is beyond their understanding as they are done in a language which they are not familiar with Colombo Appellate courts.

They go back to their villages, very dissatisfied as their case get postponed every time due to non availability of time. The Courts are overflowing with cases.

Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva PC was honoured by Senior and Junior Attorneys for establishing New Appellate High Courts in the Provinces.

Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva PC, LLM Magna Cum Laude (with high honours) was admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in June 1967.

He was appointed as a Crown Counsel in Attorney General’s Department in 1968 and as a Senior State Counsel in February 1975.

He was awarded a Scholarship for Post Graduate Studies at the University of Brussels (V.V.B.).

As a Crown Counsel and a Senior State Counsel he was engaged mainly in criminal work prosecuting in the Assize Sessions of the Supreme Court in various parts of the country. Prosecuted before the Criminal Justice Commission established to try the suspects involved in the 1971 Insurrection and subsequently led the prosecution team in these cases.

He was promoted as Deputy Solicitor General in 1979 and thereafter handled mainly Civil and Public cases.

He served as a Lecturer at the Sri Lanka Law College from 1981 to 1987, teaching Civil Procedure and as a Visiting Lecturer of the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo in 1983.

He was appointed as a Judge of the Court of Appeal in 1987 and Court of Appeal President in January 1994.

While functioning as the Court of Appeal President, he brought about a marked improvement, where a backlog of over 19,000 cases was reduced to approximately 10,000 within a period of two years.

The Chief Justice secured funding from the USAID and Asia Foundation to install a computerized case tracking system the first of its kind introduced in Sri Lanka and which serves as a model for future automation of Court Registries.

He was elevated to the office Judge of the Supreme Court in 1995. Appointed as the Attorney General in 1996 and was called to the Inner Bar as President’s Counsel in 1996. Appointed as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in September 1999.

Computerization of the District Court of Colombo was completed during his tenure as Chief Justice.

When the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC made every endeavour to bring 18th Amendment to the Constitution, this was stymied by certain parties due to petty political reasons. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution became a non event.

The Chief Justice at a function in the BMICH remarked that no one can wait for justice. People will not tolerate us for long. They become exasperated, they will look for other means. The Chief Justice emphasised that there are sixteen High Courts already established in terms of the Act to clear this backlog of cases.

Today the cases that are transferred and new appeal cases are heard in terms of Section 5 of the Act No 54 of 2006.

Senior Attorneys emphasised that it is very appropriate and fitting to pay tribute to a great gentleman like Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC who did this important task.

It is time to probe into areas which need immediate attention to remedy certain defects in the present system if there are any. Since the system is new to these areas where these courts are established, the office staff and lawyers need be educated on the procedural aspects.

The Judges are of course very mindful of the fact and very tolerable on the lapses on the part of litigants, staff and lawyers. Those who appear in these courts should be made aware of their responsibilities and taught how to discharge their duties with skill, ability and efficiency.

The Chief Justice not only emphasised on laws delays, speaking on June 10, 2000 at the BASL Auditorium stressed the importance of the refurbishment of Courts, construction of new Courts and improvement of facilities. Today, with utmost gratitude, we must remember that these Court Houses are well refurbished, computerized and equipped with necessary facilities, as the Chief Justice promised that day.

The training programs for Judicial officers are being conducted every week at the Judges Training Institute. The Judges Training Institute is housed today at the official residence of the Chief Justice which is spacious, well-furnished house.

The Chief Justice given it over to the Judges training purposes has opted to stay in a very modest small house in Colombo which is devoid of any luxury, true to his Buddhist attitude in life. The Chief Justice also emphasised on the accumulation of our legal literature so that it will be available to us in the 21st century in the form of processed data which can be used.

Some of the judgements of the Chief Justice are of great significance. Among them was the judgement to hold the Presidential elections in 1995. His outstanding judgements on former Minister Anurudha Ratwatte setting out the principles of bail is oft quoted in Courts.

Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, PC judgement on FR application of 503 is also significant, where he has stated that no one is above the Law and every one is equal before the Law. He gave this judgement against former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

A far reaching decision the Chief Justice has taken as the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, is the introduction of English medium in the Law College to improve the academic standards of lawyers.

He also did a lot of improvements to Sri Lanka Law College by equipping it with modern teaching equipment. The Chief Justice’s judgement on Immigration and Emigration Act has brought a lot of relief to hundreds of people who were on detention without any legal remedy.

His last few Acts such as opening of Nuwara-Eliya and Nawalapitiya Courts Complexes show his abiding interest in improving the physical quality of courts which is a - sine qua non.

The Lawyers and litigants will feel this unbridgeable void created by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC’s retirement.

His final landmark judgement on Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation will remain unforgettable in the annals of the judicial history of Sri Lanka.

It is sad that he is leaving at a time that he is physically and mentally fit to remain in this seat even for another twenty years.

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