A tribute on the first death anniversary of H L de
Silva P C which falls on April 7:
I had the pleasure of associating with the H L de Silva, instructing
him in our Firm’s Court cases since the time he reverted to the
unofficial Bar in 1970, in the year which I was admitted to practice as
a Supreme Court Proctor. In fact, when he reverted back to the
unofficial Bar in 1970, his first brief was from our Firm as V Murugesu
my Senior, had encouraged his good friend H L de Silva to join the
private bar and I remember the pleasure of instructing him to obtain an
interim injunction in a case involving the National Lotteries Board.
That was his first appearance at the unofficial Bar after leaving the
AG’s department that too in the District Court of Colombo. The last time
I met him one year ago was in March 2009 - he recollected a number of
cases including the Collettes -v- Bank of Ceylon case, in which he
worked hard and he shared his pleasant as well as his bitter experience
of Hulftsdorp in his forthright manner.
Made history in FR jurisdiction
When the fundamental jurisdiction was given to the Supreme Court, it
was H L de Silva who created history by arguing and extending the scope
of jurisdiction. I sat by his side (instructing him) and watched how he
fought for a student who was denied admission to Medical College.
H L de Silva P C
That was the case of Perera and another -v- University Grants
Commission reported in (1978, 1979, 1980) Sri Lanka Reports page 128.
That was perhaps the first fundamental rights application successfully
argued on the right to equality of opportunity under Article 12 (1) of
the 1978 Constitution. The petitioner was his niece but there is no
doubt he would have argued the case with the same vigour even if it was
for a stranger.
Two leading cases in which I had the pleasure of closely working with
this Hulftsdorp Lion were Collettes -v- Bank of Ceylon and ‘Rabea’ Trade
Mark case. Having asked his senior P Navaratnarajah Q C who was always a
‘Master of facts’ to present the facts in Collettes case he argued the
questions of Law. Like all the others who appeared for Collettes Limited
he regretted that we lost the appeals for mysterious reasons. He was
talking of his disappointment with the judgments of Superior Courts even
when I met him in March 2009 - a few days before his unfortunate demise.
The other case which was also fought hard was infringement of trade
mark “Rabea”. When arguing the appeals in the Superior Courts he got
Lakshman Kadirgamar, P C who was his junior in those appeals also to
argue some of the points of appeal. Thus he was an excellent team
player. At conferences he would discuss the issues with us. I always
remember him as one of the Seniors from whom I had learnt a lot during
the period of four decades.
He was persevering and hardworking. He was fortunate to have his wife
who stood by him not only in his personal life but also in his career.
He used to tell us how his wife was helping him in typing and
re-typing drafts which he would keep on changing during the times when
there was no computer. He used to get up at 4.00 a m and study the
briefs and prepare for the Court work of the day.
Stood for professional ideals and traditions
He always maintained the highest traditions of the profession. When
he was the President BASL President H L de Silva, P.C., addressed the
newly admitted Attorneys-at-Law on October 30, 1988 and urged them to
“safeguard professional ideals and maintain professional traditions”. He
“.... unlike other organizations of persons who are engaged in an
occupation, the Bar Association is not essentially a trade union or a
body of persons who are engaged in wielding power or authority through
collective action. It is principally and above everything else an
association of professional men.
“What binds them together is their commitment to upholding certain
principles, standards and values in the conduct of their professional
business. It engenders in them or at any rate ought to create in them a
certain pride in the observance of rules of conduct and etiquette, even
when compliance with the rules may not always be to their personal
advantage, if considered from a narrow and selfish viewpoint.
This commitment must stand firm because in the long run the
observance of these rules is necessary in the interests of the general
welfare of the members of the profession and the public. So that the
essential significance of the Bar Association is that it is a body which
is concerned with the maintenance of professional standards and the
upholding of certain principles and values which are considered to be
necessary for the proper administration of justice.... ”
Protected the interests
In a country where people seek offices for their personal glory, H L
de Silva, brought honour to the office of the Bar Association of Sri
Lanka (BASL) President when he was elected to that office. H W
Jayewardena, Q.C., promoted the candidature of H L de Silva, for the
presidency of the BASL despite the latter’s political alignment was to
the opposite camp. The present day colleagues at the Bar should be
reminded how both those great leaders of the Bar - ‘H W’ and ‘H L’ -
rose above the political party differences to protect the interests of
H L once said:-
“........ So please remember that the Bar Association exists
primarily for the protection and safe guarding of professional ideals
and the maintenance of professional traditions. So if we allow these
standards to deteriorate, if we permit our professional honour to be
tarnished then slowly but surely the legal profession will atrophy and
To be continued