JVP defends Lal Kantha’s call for devolution of judicial power, promises new Constitution



By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) yesterday declared that their coalition intended to introduce a new Constitution following the presidential poll scheduled to be conducted later this year.

Attorney-at-law Sunil Watagala said that as it wouldn’t be possible to enact a new Constitution, soon after the election, the JJB would continue with the existing law of the land for some time. Watagala said that constitutional provisions that were beneficial to the people would be retained.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is also the leader of the JJB.

Addressing the media at their party office, lawyer Watagala assured that the JJB would take tangible measures to address the concerns of the people, pertaining to legal matters, and simplify the relevant laws.

The JVPer alleged that the UNP, led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, the ruling SLPP, and the main Opposition party, the SJB, had been engaged in a joint campaign to target the JJB and its top leadership. The latest instance is the stepped up attacks on the party over the recent declaration made by JVP heavyweight Lal Kantha that the people (villagers) would be granted the authority to settle legal disputes, Watagala a member of the National Executive Committee of JJB, said.

He claimed that various spokespersons of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, as well as the SJB, misinterpreted former lawmaker Lal Kantha’s statement made at their May Day rally to deceive the public as to the JJB’s intentions.

Watagala urged the public not to be deceived by despicable strategies of JJB’s opponents and to appreciate the true meaning of Lal Kantha’s declaration.

Having explained the operation of courts at different levels and the circumstances in which some issues were dealt outside the court system, lawyer Watagala asserted that Lal Kantha suggested creation of a legal mechanism to address issues that could be dealt at village level. Watagala said that their opponents had been working overtime to convince the public that the JVP/JJB intended to grant legal powers to its members.

He maintained that there was no justification or basis whatsoever for that claim. The government and the SJB propagated lies as they had been seriously disturbed by the growing threat posed by the JJB, Watagala said, adding that the lawyers of the JJB were engaged in studies meant to introduce, what he called, a genuine set of laws.

The JVPer said that once they released their manifesto ahead of the presidential poll, the public would be able to comprehend the JJB’s overall plan.

Lawyer Harshana Nanayakkara said that Lal Kantha’s 42-minute speech had been so heavily edited that the vast majority of people watched just 90 second footage. On the basis of that the interested parties deliberately misinterpreted the thrust of his speech, Nanayakkara said. What the ex-lawmaker really emphasized was the responsibility on the part of the government to ensure the public had access to justice.

Underscoring difficulties experienced by people living in the provinces in seeking intervention of the Supreme Court, Nanayakkara suggested that they could look into the possibility of having a Supreme Court in each province.

Referring to what he called court systems implemented at village level in India and Bangladesh, Nanayakkara said that the JJB wouldn’t under any circumstances seek to unilaterally change and implement new laws. Nanayakkara assured that the JJB would discuss the issues at hand with all stakeholders and take meaningful measures to grant maximum possible access for the public.

Attorney-at-law Hemaka Senanayake, Chairman of the JJB lawyers’ association in Colombo said that Lal Kantha’s proposal should be examined taking into consideration devolution of powers. Senanayake pointed out the inordinate delays caused by the existing court system due to a range of reasons and the need for far reaching changes as suggested by Lal Kantha to overcome the difficulties.

Senanayake stressed that changes were necessary to further reduce laws’ delay and expedite the hearing of cases at all courts.

Instead of trying to deceive the public by misinterpreting Lal Kantha’s statement, the powers that be should examine the recently concluded State Minister Diana Gamage’s case, Senanayake said. “How long the case lasted? Why it takes so long to bring the case to a conclusion? How did a foreign national become a lawmaker here? Can anyone explain how she become an office-bearer of a political party, in spite of not being a Sri Lanka citizen? “

Senanayake said that the SJB owed an explanation as to why she was appointed to Parliament through its National List. President Wickremesinghe had appointed a foreigner as a State Minister knowing her background, Senanayake said.

Lawyer Akalanka Ukwaththa said that there was no need to be fearful of devolution of judicial power. Ukwaththa said that attempts were being made to cause panic over Lal Kantha’s statement supportive of genuine representative democracy. Ukwaththa reminded that the former MP also stressed the need for the Prime Minister to be responsible to Parliament. The JVPer said that those fearful of the JJB’s rise were now trying to monger scare stories. “We will definitely establish genuine representative democracy,” Ukwaththa said. He assured that they would enact a new Constitution, new laws and adopt other measures in keeping with the laws of the country.

President’s Counsel Upul Kumarapperuma examined Lal Kantha’s call for devolution of legal powers against the backdrop of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that devolved administrative powers to the provinces.

Kumarappeuma decried the attempts to compare the situation during 1987-1990 insurgency with the possible scenario in case the JJB won the presidential polls. Referring to Lal Kantha’s controversial May Day speech, the lawyer said that the ex-MP had underscored the need to further devolve legal powers/authority as part of overall efforts to deal with cases expeditiously.