Bench forms backbone of society - CJ
The Bench and the Bar welcomed new Chief Justice Asoka de Silva at a
ceremonial sitting held at the Superior Court Complex yesterday morning.
Associated on the Bench with the Chief Justice Asoka de Silva were
Justices Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, Shiranee Tilakawardena, Nimal Gamini
Amaratunga, Saleem Marsoof PC, Jagath Balapatabendi, Justice K. Sripavan,
Justice P. A. Ratnayake PC, Justice Chandra Ekanayake and Justice S.I.
New Chief Justice Asoka de Silva being greeted by Attorney
General Mohan Pieris PC immediately after the ceremonial
sitting at the Supreme Court Complex. President’s Counsel
Harsha Soza and President’s Counsel Wijedasa Rajapakse also
in the picture. Picture by Sudath Nishantha
Judges of the Court of Appeal, Commercial High Court, High Court
Judges, Colombo District Judge, Additional District Judges, Colombo
Chief Magistrate and Colombo Additional Magistrates were at dais.
Attorney General Mohan Peiris PC, Bar Association of Sri Lanka
President W. Dayaratne, President’s Counsel, Senior and Junior members
of the official and Unofficial Bar, and close relatives of Chief Asoka
de Silva were among the distinguished gathering.
Supreme Court Registrar Ms. M. Maheshi Jayasekara and Deputy
Registrar D. Manatunga officiated.
The Chief Justice Asoka de Silva addressing the gathering said:
I thank you both Mr. Attorney, Mr. Dayaratne, The President of the
Bar Association, for your gracious words of welcome and I thank all of
you for your kind presence here today. As most of you may be aware, this
is the fourth time that I am addressing you in the confines of these
vast halls. First when I took office as a judge of the Court of Appeal
in 1995, then as President of the Court of Appeal, then as Judge of the
Supreme Court, and today, as Chief Justice. I take office with
responsibility and confidence, as always.
It appears that our country is on the threshold of a new era and I
know that you will join with me in the hope that peace will prevail and
that this country will move towards a lasting stability with
understanding, tolerance and contentment among its people.
Where the judiciary and the Bar are concerned we must all remember
that we all have a common origin and the fates have dictated as to who
should sit in judgement and who should guide and advise those who sit in
judgement. That is the difference between the Bench and the Bar.
Where the Bench is concerned it is my view that it forms the backbone
of any civilised society. If at any time the Bench is compromised
society begins to deteriorate from within and will end in anarchy. With
justice we value so highly, roaming the streets. As such the integrity
of the judiciary must be nurtured and protected fiercely and jealously.
To that end the Bar, both official and unofficial play a pivotal and
Where the judiciary itself is concerned its conduct must be such that
in the transparency of its actions there is no room for any doubt of
It is then and only then, that the ideal state will emerge. Where
people will walk without fear, confident in the belief that the guardian
of their rights is forever vigilant and whenever moved, will act swiftly
It is my view that to that end, among others, we need a strong Bar.
As often said a strong Bar begets a strong Bench. By a strong Bar I do
not in any way mean an irresponsible Bar, but one that will canvass its
rights in the proper manner befitting an illustrious profession, and
discharge its duties with due diligence and courtesy.
I have always maintained that courtesy is a two way road. It must be
remembered at all times that our hearings are public and open except in
the rare instance of in camera proceedings. It is my view that courtesy
from the Bar will beget courtesy from the Bench and that even
discourtesy from the Bar must yet beget courtesy from the Bench. Because
the Judge is unmoved at all times in session. So, it is the business of
Counsel who appear and the Judges before whom they appear, to maintain
the decorum of Court however unpalatable it may seem at the relevant
Always remember that whilst we judge the individual and indeed the
whole world judges us and in the final analysis we, the Bench and the
Bar are both on trial at all times before the most unsympathetic and
vindictive of juries the public whom we strive to protect. I may be
permitted to draw your attention to a verse in Dhammapada. A man is not
a just Judge merely because he arbitrates cases hastily without proper
care. A wise Judge would investigate and give his decision without being
Now, a word to the young lawyer: I am aware that the Bar is quite
crowded and many a young lawyer finds very soon that he is floundering
in deep water. I would like the young lawyers to contemplate on what I
am about to say. I have associated with lawyers and judges young and
old, local and foreign, for a considerable period of time.
I have sat in judgement in local as well as in foreign jurisdictions.
The young lawyers who bolts out into the profession with the obsession
of making money will make money. But he will not make himself and in due
course may end up rich but unfulfilled, I have my reservations about the
sensibility of the well worn instruction: ‘go out and build your
practice’; the primary objective of the young lawyer is not to build a
practice: it is to build himself. The practice will follow. It is
difficult to bring down a practice which has pursued the man just as it
is easy to bring down the man who has pursued the practice.
The one way to build yourself up is to study. The fact that you are
out of Law College does not mean that your time of studying is over, on
the contrary it has just begun. The successful lawyer never stops
studying the law. When I used the term ‘successful’ I do not limited it
to worldly success: it envelopes spiritual contentment as well.
The legal profession is constantly on the move and we must all keep
up with it. It is imperative to remember that our legal system is not an
orphan carrying on in isolation to the exclusion of other comparative
systems, but, that we are part of a vast international legal system and
as such it is necessary that we keep abreast of developments in the law
in the international forum, critically analyse and apply them if
suitable, ignore them if unsuitable, or reject them if found wanting.
To turn now to another matter concerning the immediate future: quite
a number of lawyers, junior and senior, met me yesterday in Chambers to
wish me well and to express their hope that I would safely navigate this
noble vessel in which all of you are travelling with me, through all the
troubled waters that we may encounter. ‘Yes’ I say to you, I will do so.
Considering the sum total of one aspect I gathered yesterday from my
discourse with you please heed to what I am about to say; Our duty is to
hear and determine. Yours is to guide and advice. Every one, quite
understandably, wants a fair hearing.
But a fair hearing depends upon a fair delivery. Fairness is a mutual
affair between Bench and Bar. If counsel makes ill prepared and slipshod
submissions then firstly he is letting down his client and secondly he
is letting us down, and finally he lets himself down. In a Court, there
are very few things more invigorating to the ear and to the mind than
hearing a well prepared delivery. So, he assured of a full and fair
hearing. Let us also have the assurance of a full and fair delivery, and
all will be well.
Once again, I thank you for your kind presence here today and for
your good wishes.
I would be failing in my address if I do not mention with affection
and gratitude, my school St. Anthony’s and its teaching staff, the
Attorney-General’s Department which gave me the grounding and so paved
the way for me to this present position. So also, my thanks to all those
colleagues and friends who helped me in so many numerous ways in my
times of anxiety and also to those who shared in my happiness in my
times of achievement - specially my celebrations!
I must also mention here by appreciation of my wife Chintha, my
children Channa and Kanishka for their patience and understanding and
their steadfast encouragement to me on this long journey. And, I thank
my parents for instilling in me the good qualities of life.
May God bless you.