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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

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Justice Wanasundera; 'Daniel came to judgement'

Justice Raja Wanasundera who was an acting Attorney-General, Supreme Court Judge and acting Chief Justice passed away recently at the age of 87 after a brief illness.

Justice
Raja Wanasundera

He was educated at Royal College and also is a graduate of the University of London. Further, he did a postgraduate course in International Law and Constitutional Law at Stanford University of California. He spent a greater part of his career as a member of the Attorney-General's Department. After a short period of practice at the unofficial Bar in the Chambers of late N E Weerasooriya (Q.C.), he joined the Attorney-General's Department in January 1952 as a Crown Counsel. He gradually rose in the department holding successively the offices of senior Crown Counsel, Deputy Solicitor-General and became Solicitor-General in 1971 and acting Attorney-General in July 1973. He was practically in charge of the civil work of the department ever since the former Chief Justice late Victor Tennekoon left the department. Among the notable cases in which he appeared was the case of 'Ranasinghe vs The Bribery Commission'. This case later went up to the Privy Council for decision and the judgement of the Privy Council has been regarded by Jurists as constituting a significant contribution in the development of constitutional law. He has also acted as Secretary to the Important Industrial Disputes Commission. Further, he served as Secretary to the Commission appointed to inquire into the leakage of the Cabinet information headed by A R H Kanakaratne (QC). He also served as Secretary to the Commission on Industrial Disputes headed by late H W Jayawardene (QC).

Brilliant cross examiner

In addition to all these, he had represented Sri Lanka in the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee and also assisted in the discussion which resulted in the 'Srima-Shastri' pact in 1964. Mr Wanasundera was a man of luminous intelligence and mighty intellect with an amazing capacity to pierce through a problem to its core. As a senior crown counsel, Deputy Solicitor-General, Solicitor-General and acting Attorney-General, his methodical and meticulous preparation of cases entrusted to him was an exercise in unbounded patience, total dedication and utmost endeavour not only to give forth his clients, but also to be of maximum assistance to the Bench.

His court craft was admirable and unmatched. When he walked into the courts, he knew his brief like the back of his hand. He also possessed in ample measure the tact and ingenuity of how to try and convince the judge before whom he appeared. He sailed through most difficult and intricate cases and made them simple and lucid in the eyes of the presiding judge.

In fact, he was a fountain of inspiration and unstinted assistance to his juniors at the Attorney-General's Department. Further, he displayed very forcibly the three qualities - courage, independence and courtesy. He was in every sense of the term a Himalayan personality capable of withstanding storms and blizzards with total and natural equanimity. He had one of the legal brains who could think clearly, logically and incisively. He was a brilliant cross examiner with great intellectual attainments, personal charm, cultured, warm-hearted, sincere with full of common sense.

Furthermore, as a Supreme Court Judge, he preserved the dignity of the courts and the image of Justice. He always believed that judges should discharge their duties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will or bias.

Divine function

While on the Bench, he lived up to the essence of the art of judging namely an attentive and receptive ear, a mind opened to conviction, a readiness to acknowledge error and will to do justice regardless of personal motives as pre-judices.

In fact, the secret of his success as a good judge is that he was deeply religious and genuinely believed that the seat of justice is a place for the performance of a divine function.

He was of the opinion that a Judge has not only do justice between man and man, but also he has to do justice between the citizen and the state and the service rendered by a judge demands the highest qualities of learning, training and character.

According to him a respected and an independent judiciary and a vigilant and strong Bar are indispensable to the administration of Justice and for vindication of law.

As a Supreme Court Judge, he maintained tremendous courage and a high degree of judicial statesmanship. He steered the courts with great dexterity through perils and floods and left it with its stature no less high as when he was summed in this high office. Mr Wanasundera was the symbol of virtues, impartiality, independence, courtesy, firmness and above, a deep sense of justice. He achieved excellence as a judge of the Supreme Court on account of his courtesy towards the counsel, firmness in his rulings and full possession of facts and always master of his court.

It is very often said that "a great judge must be a man with a spark of greatness to start with, his job is the applied practice of wisdom and justice and these may not be borrowed from any of the calf bound books, but must spring from the man himself," so said a former Attorney-General and later Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

Justice Wanasundera was literally a comet who blazed momentarily across our skies leaving in its trail a luminescence which the passing of time can hardly erase and I wish to conclude with the following:- "Good Night Sweet Prince, May the flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

 

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