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How smart is it to litigate to be proven right?



By Dhara Wijayatilake1

A disputant goes into court against another because he thinks he is right and the other is wrong and wants a court pronouncement to cement his position. After many years, huge expense, many consultations with Lawyers, many trips to the court house, postponed hearings, and even perhaps much emotional turmoil, a Judge delivers a judgment. One party is proven right and the other wrong, or the case may even be decided on a procedural matter with no determination as to who is right and who is wrong. Even the winner, if there is one is a loser. Today, there are options to litigation such as Mediation where the focus is not on being right, but on what each disputant needs and on reaching a settlement to satisfy those needs. It’s a process that is fast and cost effective. So, it’s a call to be smart – spend time and money to be right (litigation – where you may even end up being wrong) or spend much less time and much less money to satisfy needs (Mediation).

Delays in courts have reached ridiculous levels. Many Ministers of Justice over many years have attempted to reduce delays by “reforming” laws. The outcomes have not made a significant difference and the challenge to find solutions continue. One of the most comprehensive studies on Laws Delays in Sri Lanka was perhaps the one done by the “Laws Delays and Legal Culture Committee” headed by Justice R. S. Wanasundera, Judge of the Supreme Court. In its Report of October 1985 the Committee identified several causes for delays and submitted proposals to remedy them. The Report included a poignant observation that remains valid even today, ie. that in an adversarial system of justice such as ours, delays destroy justice, deterrence is lost, costs are increased, court resources are wasted and severe emotional hardship is inflicted upon litigants. In combination, these factors undermine the efficacy of the whole legal system, sapping its strength, vitality and even its integrity, and making the majority of litigants lose confidence. This observation remains valid even today. While substantive and procedural laws can be reformed in an attempt to eliminate delaying features, the legal culture which is a significant contributor can only be reformed through good practices that then constitute our legal culture. Here’s where we fail.

Laws delays is not a phenomenon that’s peculiar to Sri Lanka. It’s a problem confronting many jurisdictions across the globe. It’s this disillusionment with litigation which is rooted in the adversarial system, that has motivated a diversion to alternative methods of resolving disputes. The most popular Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods are Arbitration, Mediation and Negotiation. This article discusses Mediation which is accepted globally as an alternative that offers benefits that have proved to be meaningful.

Features of Mediation

There are many models of Mediation including Facilitative and Evaluative which are the most popular. In the 1960s, Facilitative Mediation flourished because of its marked difference in approach to conflict resolution and the resulting successes. Evaluative mediation is used by Mediators who are subject experts and offers an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the legal positions of the disputants leading to informed decision making by the disputants. This method is often used by judges in jurisdictions that provide for a settlement conference. This article discusses Facilitative Mediation which offers a process that’s unique in its features and is in complete contrast to litigation or Arbitration. Mediation evokes excitement because it’s speedy and cost effective, These virtues alone make a good case for opting for Mediation. There are others.

=It provides for party autonomy. Parties decide on the Mediators, the venue, the language of the mediation, the rules, and importantly, controls the outcome. No outside party sits in judgment over the dispute or how it should be settled.

=It’s informal but inspires trust. Parties sit with the Mediator and the other parties in an informal setting and engage in the process directly. They are provided ample space to speak of their concerns and participate fully while maintaining their dignity. Although there are no formalities as in a court of law, parties are required to conduct themselves in a disciplined manner. Parties are guided to move away from positions and focus on interests and needs instead.

=The procedural rules are simple and user friendly and are designed only to ensure responsible conduct. The process is not bogged down with procedural imperatives. There’s never a risk as prevails in litigation, that some flaw in complying with a procedural rule will get primacy over the core issues in the dispute, in determining the fate of the parties.

=It’s voluntary. The disputants use the option of mediation by choice and are free to walk out of a mediation at any time and are not obligated at any stage to stay in the process. This is so, even if reference to mediation is mandatory by law, based on the category of dispute and its monetary value. What is mandatory is to attempt a mediated settlement prior to proceeding to file action in a court of law.

= There’s no judgment of right vs wrong. It’s a process that seeks to find common ground to agree on a settlement that addresses the interests of both parties, and is not a process that evaluates legal entitlements although those can also be taken into account by parties when agreeing to a settlement.

=It adopts a completely non adversarial approach and therefore affords the opportunity for parties to repair fractured feelings, thus enabling an ongoing relationship.

=It’s confidential. This is an important feature of Mediation. Parties are required to sign agreement to maintain confidentiality with regard to all matters discussed. Parties agree not to divulge the substance of discussions at any other dispute resolution forum.

= The process is skillfully facilitated by a third party neutral, the Mediator. The Mediator controls the process using special skills and techniques and facilitates the disputants to reach an outcome that’s acceptable to them. The Mediator ensures that ground rules are followed to control emotions and avoid aggression during the sessions.

Neutrality of the Mediator is an important feature. The Mediator must at all times maintain independence and neutrality. If at any time, a disputant feels that this principle is breached, a mediation can be terminated.

Sri Lanka’s Mediation statutes

Mediation was first institutionalized with the enactment of the Mediation Boards Act, No. 72 of 1988 which incorporated all of the key features of Mediation. Mediation Boards now function in every Divisional Secretary’s area across the country. These have come to be known as “community Mediation Boards.” Subsequently, the Mediation (Special Categories of Disputes) Act, No. 21 of 2003 was enacted2 to provide for more specialized mediation services for certain identified categories of disputes.

The 1988 Act stipulates that certain categories of disputes must be mandatorily referred to Mediation, and also that certain disputes cannot be entertained by Community Mediation Boards.

Where reference to Mediation is mandatory, no action in respect of such a dispute can be instituted in or be entertained by a court of law unless Mediation has been unsuccessful and a certificate of non settlement from the Mediation Board is produced.

Disputes that must mandatorily be referred to Mediation are-

a) where the value of the dispute is below the monetary threshold set out in the Act, unless it’s one which gives rise to a cause of action set out in the Third Schedule to the Act.

In 1988 the monetary threshold was stipulated as Rs. 25,000/=. This has been amended from time to time and the current threshold introduced in 2016 is Rs, 500,000/=1.

The Third Schedule to the Act sets out fifteen categories of actions. These are actions in relation to disputes that were not considered suitable for settlement through community Mediation Boards.

b) where the dispute is in relation to an offence which is set out in the Second Schedule.

The Second Schedule sets out eighteen offences punishable under twenty six (26) sections of the Penal Code.

While mandatory reference to Mediation is not required in the case of disputes above Rs. 500,000/=, it is possible for the parties to submit the dispute for Mediation voluntarily, unless the dispute is one in respect of which an application for settlement cannot be entertained by a Mediation Board.

The categories of disputes that cannot be entertained by a Mediation Board, even if the value of the dispute is below Rs. 500,000/=, are the following –

where one party is the State; or

where one party is a public officer and the dispute relates to the recovery of property, money or other dues ; or

where the Attorney General has initiated proceedings in respect of an offence.

The Mediation (Special Categories of Disputes) Act, No. 21 of 2003-

The rationale for this Act was motivated by the reality that Mediation is the more appropriate method to resolve certain categories of disputes where positions based on strict legal rights and technicalities must give way to accord primacy to the needs of parties to address the underlying concerns. The challenge to reduce the litigation load in courts was also becoming a very serious one. The Act provides for the Minister to establish Mediation Boards to provide mediation services in respect of defined categories of disputes, in identified areas of the country. The category of dispute, the areas to which it will apply and the monetary threshold below which these disputes must mandatorily be referred to Mediation, are required to be set out in Orders made by the Minister1. An important statutory guideline that the Minister is required to consider to determine the categories of disputes is, “the need to provide for the meaningful resolution of disputes relating to social and economic issues.1 It’s an important policy decision to be taken based on real needs of the people.

While the community Mediation Boards are manned by volunteers who are not required to have any specific educational qualifications, the distinguishing feature of the 2003 Act is that the Minister is required to prescribe by Regulation, the qualifications that a Mediator must possess having regard to the expertise required of Members, considering the nature of the categories of disputes that must be mediated. Different qualifications may be prescribed for different categories of disputes. The appointments are made by the same Mediation Boards Commission referred to in the 1988 Act.

Mediation Boards were established under this Act in 2005 after the Tsunami of 2004 for the resolution of tsunami related disputes and in 2015 to resolve land disputes in the Administrative Districts in the North and East. It was accepted that Mediation was the more meaningful method to address land disputes that arose after the North East ethnic conflict. The Orders currently in force as at February 2022, provide for the following1 :

It is absolutely important that the persons who will function as Mediators are trained in the techniques and skills of mediation. Without proper, adequate and focussed training, the results will be disastrous and will negate the intentions of the Act since the success of mediation in conflict resolution is totally dependent on the intrinsic value of the techniques adopted. Mediation is not a process that can succeed if you simply have the ear of a patient listener.

The UN Convention on Mediation

Mediation has increased in acceptance over the years because of its benefits. It is this popularity and its increasing use in international commercial dispute resolution that inspired UNCITRAL’s Working Group on Dispute Settlement to address the need for a harmonious regime that will set standards for the cross-border enforcement of international settlement agreements resulting from mediation. As a result of its work, the Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation was adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on December 20, 2018,

The Preamble to the Convention recites that the Parties –

“recognize the value for international trade, of mediation as a method for settling commercial disputes in which the parties in dispute request a third person or persons to assist them in their attempt to settle the dispute amicably;

note that mediation is increasingly used in international and domestic commercial practice as an alternative to litigation;

considers that the use of mediation results in significant benefits, such as reducing the instances where a dispute leads to the termination of a commercial relationship, facilitating the administration of international transactions by commercial parties and producing savings in the administration of justice by States; and

are convinced that the establishment of a framework for international settlement agreements resulting from mediation that is acceptable to States with different legal, social and economic systems would contribute to the development of harmonious international economic relations “

The Convention opened for signature on August 7, 2019 in Singapore and Forty Six (46) countries including Sri Lanka became signatories on that same day. Popularly knows as the “Singapore Convention on Mediation”, it came into force on September 12, 2020. As at February, 2022 it has been signed by 55 countries and ratified by 9. Sri Lanka is now obligated to enact domestic legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. UNCITRAL’s work on the Convention and its adoption by the UNGA, is evidence of the the global acceptance of Mediation to resolve commercial disputes.

The CCC- ICLP International ADR Center of Sri Lanka (IADRC)

In 2018, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC) and the Institute for the Development of Commercial Law and Practice (ICLP) in a joint venture, incorporated a not for profit company and established a new Center, the CCC-ICLP International ADR Center (IADRC) to provide ADR services. It was a response to the need of the business community for more efficient dispute resolution. The novelty of the new Center is that it offers mediation services in addition to arbitration.

Both Institutions were aware of the global trends that favored ADR and the successes of Regional Centers. The Hong Kong International Arbitration Center (HKIAC) established in 1985, the Singapore Mediation Center (SMC) launched in 1997, the Indian Institute of Arbitration and Mediation (IIAM) established in 2001, the International ADR Center of the Indian Merchants Chamber (IIMC) established in 2015 and the Malaysian Mediation Center (MMC) established in 1999 under the auspices of the Bar Council of Malaysia, offered inspiration. These centers offered services that included Arbitration and Mediation. The Singapore Mediation Center states that, as at Feb 2022, it has mediated 5,200 matters worth over $10 billion since its launch. The rate of successful mediations is stated to be 70% with 90% of those having been settled in one day! The high rate of success can be attributed to the skill and competence and the professionalism of the Mediators. Compliance with the mediation process and using the special skills and techniques are key to achieving good outcomes and hence the absolute need for training.

The IADRC launched its Arbitration and Mediation Rules in April 2021 and has trained Mediators and Arbitrators who are available to provide services. The Arbitration Rules of the Center seek to eliminate some of the common causes for delay. It’s the only Center that offers institutionalized Mediation for commercial dispute resolution. Arbitration and Mediation services can be administered in compliance with these Rules of the Center, or the UNCITRAL Rules, or any others that may be adopted on an ad hoc basis.

The Mediation Rules of the IADRC

The CCC-ICLP Mediation Rules incorporate all the internationally recognized standards that are known to define the Mediation process. The Rules provide for the following-

 To commence the Mediation, an application (a “Request for Mediation”) must be made to the Center either by one party or jointly by all disputing parties, requesting Mediation services for the settlement of the dispute.

 After completing preliminary administrative steps such as obtaining, where appropriate, the consent of all parties to pursue Mediation, the parties are required to sign the “Agreement to Mediate”. This Agreement includes an obligation to “abide by and comply with the Mediation Rules of the Center or other Rules that have been agreed to.”

The language of the Mediation will be as agreed to, by the parties.

The next step is to appoint a Mediator or a panel of Mediators. The disputing parties have the discretion to nominate a Mediator from among those accredited by the Center or from outside of that list. Usually, a Mediation will be handled by a single Mediator. However, a panel could be appointed if so desired, where there are complex issues in a dispute.

Importantly, the Mediator has to be independent, impartial and neutral throughout the process. Several safeguards are included to ensure compliance with this principle.

The Mediation sessions then commence. The Mediator manages the process and will, for this purpose convene sessions on dates and times agreed to by the parties, at a neutral venue.

The process will commence with a joint session where all parties are present. The Mediator will explain the principles that apply and explain the process. Thereafter the Mediator will decide when to have joint sessions with all parties, and individual sessions (called a “caucus”) with each party.

 At these sessions, the parties have the opportunity to discuss the matters in dispute from their own perspective. The statements, disclosures and proposals made at a Mediation are maintained in absolute confidence and are made without prejudice. This principle provides the confidence to disputing parties that nothing said can be used in any other dispute resolution process or other forum. The Mediator and the parties cannot be compelled to give evidence as to any matters disclosed at the Mediation in a court of law.

The Rules set out the obligations of the parties – attendance at the sessions in person and in the case of corporate entities attendance through a representative who is given full authority to sign off on a Settlement Agreement; compliance with the rule on confidentiality; full and honest disclosure of matters material to the dispute.

Parties are not entitled to legal representation at the sessions but may call in a Lawyer for the sole purpose of obtaining advice. However, a Lawyer who is a full time employee of a corporate is not excluded from participating at the sessions on behalf of a corporate entity.

During these sessions, a Mediator will not give directions or instructions on how to settle the dispute. The Mediator will however question the parties in a non coercive manner to help them reach a new understanding of the issues in dispute and of the concerns of the other party.

A Mediation is terminated either with an agreement to settle or with an agreement that no settlement is possible.

Where there is an agreement to settle, the Mediator is required to explain to the parties the terms and conditions of the settlement and the obligations that each party is assuming under the agreement. A settlement Agreement will be set in writing and signed by the parties and the Mediator. This is an agreement that binds the parties as any other agreement, and each party has a legal obligation to honour its terms and conditions.

Where the Mediator determines that continuing the Mediation is futile since it’s unlikely to result in a settlement considering the progress of the Mediation, or where a party informs that it wishes to withdraw from a Mediation, the Mediation will be terminated.

In either event, all the documents submitted to the Center by each party will be returned.

In normal circumstances a mediated agreement should stand the test of time since many steps have been taken to ensure it’s sustainability. However, the Rules provide for an application to be made to revise or revoke an Agreement on very limited grounds, ie. On the grounds that a) the terms were agreed to, without a proper appreciation of the obligations; or b) circumstances have arisen that prevent a party honoring the obligations; or c) that there was bias on the part of the Mediator. The last ground is most unlikely given the several steps that are required to be taken to ensure impartiality. However, this ground is included as a principle of good governance since it’s a vital feature of Mediation. An application to revise or revoke will be inquired into by the Center and a settlement will be attempted in compliance with the same principles that apply to a Mediation.

 Mediation is not an expensive process. However there are fees to be paid. The Fees for a Mediation include Administration fees as well as fees for the Mediator/s. The fees are prescribed by the Center in a Fee Schedule and will be a predetermined sum which will be made known to the parties prior to the commencement of the Mediation. There will be no surprises.


Mediation is not the most appropriate method of dispute resolution for all categories of disputes. That’s accepted. Even with the twin evils of delay and expense certain causes of action need to be determined by a court of law. Mediation however, has gained global recognition as the better method for many kinds of disputes ranging from family and workplace disputes to construction and commercial disputes.

Given the potential to be speedy and cost effective, and the high level of user satisfaction, the services provided by the CCC-ICLP IADR Center will no doubt improve the commercial dispute resolution landscape in Sri Lanka. It will also contribute to improve Sri Lanka’s performance in the contract enforcement indicator in the Doing Business rankings. The enactment of domestic legislation to enable the enforcement of international mediated settlement agreements in line with the Singapore Convention will also certainly enhance Sri Lanka’s efforts to attract foreign investors. The slogan “Mediate, don’t litigate” is gaining in popularity given the reality that it’s not always smart to litigate to be right.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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Marked stress on Asia in US foreign policy



US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One as he arrives at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea May 20, 2022

US President Joe Biden’s recent tour of some Asian powers is indicative of a renewed and enhanced interest the US is beginning to take in the Indo-Pacific region. In this his first Asian tour the President chose to visit Japan and South Korea besides helming a Quad meeting in Tokyo and there is good reason for the choice of these venues and engagements.

The first phase of these bridge-strengthening efforts by the US began in late August last year when US Vice President Kamala Harris visited South-east Asia in the wake of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Besides being driven by strong economic compulsions, the US intention was also to ensure that too much of a power vacuum did not open up in the region, following its pull-out from Afghanistan, since China’s perceived expansionist designs are a prime foreign policy concern of the US.

However, the US President’s recent wide-ranging tour of East Asia seems to have been also prompted by some currently intensifying trends and tensions in the wider stage of international politics though the seeming power vacuum just referred to has a significant bearing on it. The immediate purpose of the US President’s tour seems to have been to bolster his country’s backing for Japan and South Korea, two of the US’ closest allies in East Asia. This is necessitated by the ‘China threat’, which, if neglected, could render the US allies vulnerable to China’s military attacks on the one hand and blunt US power and influence in the region on the other.

While Taiwan’s airspace has reportedly been frequently violated by China, sections in Japan have reasons to be wary of perceived Chinese expansionist moves in Japan’s adjacent seas. Moreover, many of China’s neighbours have been having territorial disputes with China, which have tended to intensify the perception over the decades that in the Asian theatre in particular China is a number one ‘bogey’. For historical reasons, South Korea too has been finding the increasing rise of China as a major world power considerably discomforting.

Accordingly, the US considers it opportune to reassure South-east Asia in general and its allies in the region in particular of its continuous military, economic and political support. Though these are among the more immediate reasons for Biden’s tour of the region, there are also the convulsions triggered in international politics by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to consider.

Whereas sections of international opinion have been complacent in the belief that military invasions of one country by another are things of the distant past, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year proved them shockingly wrong. We have the proof here that not all authoritarian rulers are prepared to adhere to the international rule book and for some of China’s neighbours the possibility is great of their being attacked or invaded by China over the numerous rankling problems that have separated them from their economic super power neighbour over the decades. After all, China is yet to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is increasingly proving an ‘all weather friend’ of Russia. Right now, they are the strongest of allies.

The ‘China threat’ then is prime among the reasons for the US President’s visit to East Asia, though economic considerations play a substantive role in these fence-strengthening initiatives as well. While South-east Asia is the ‘economic power house’ of the world, and the US would need to be doubly mindful of this fact, it would need to reassure its allies in the region of its military and defense assistance at a time of need. This too is of paramount importance.

President Biden did just that while in Tokyo a couple of days back. For instance, he said that the US is ‘fully committed to Japan’s defense’. Biden went on to say that the ‘US is willing to use force to defend Taiwan.’ The latter comment was prompted by the perceived increasing Chinese violations of Taiwan’s air space. After all, considering that Russia has invaded Ukraine with impunity, there is apparently nothing that could prevent China from invading Taiwan and annexing it. Such are the possible repercussions of the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly carrying on with its development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. On this issue too, South Korea would need to have US assurances that the latter would come to its defense in case of a North Korean military strike. The US President’s visit to South Korea was aimed at reassuring the latter of the former’s support.

However, as mentioned, economic considerations too figured prominently in the US President’s South-east Asian tour. While being cognizant of the region’s security sensitivities, bolstering economic cooperation with the latter too was a foremost priority for the Biden administration. For example, the US is in the process of formalizing what has come to be referred to as the Indo-Pacific Trade Treaty. The US has reportedly already inducted Japan and South Korea as founding members of the Treaty while, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are mentioned as prospective members to the treaty.

The perceived threat posed to Western interests in South-east Asia by China needs to be factored in while trying to unravel the reasons for this region-wide endeavour in economic cooperation. It needs to be considered a Western response to China’s Belt and Road initiative which is seen as having a wide appeal for the global South in particular.

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is having a divisive political and economic impact on the world, international politics will increasingly revolve around the US-China stand-off on a multiplicity of fronts in time to come. Both sides are likely to try out both soft and hard power to an exceptional degree to exercise foremost influence and power in the world. As is already happening, this would trigger increasing international tensions.

There was a distinct and sharp note of firmness in the voice of the US President when he pledged defense and military support for his allies in Asia this week. Considering the very high stakes for the US in a prospering South-east Asia, the US’ competitors would be naive to dismiss his pronouncements as placatory rhetoric meant for believing allies.

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A Majoritarian Constitution



1972 Constitution in Retrospect – II

By (Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel

In this the second part of a three-part article on the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a republic, the writer submits that the 1972 Constitution paved the way for constitutionalising majoritarianism in multi-cultural Sri Lanka.

The unitary state

Although Tamil parties expressed their support for the Constituent Assembly process, they were to be disappointed by the substance of the new constitution.

Basic Resolution No. 2 proposed by the Government called for Sri Lanka to be a unitary state. The Federal Party (FP) proposed an amendment that ‘unitary’ be replaced by ‘federal’.

In a memorandum and the model constitution that it submitted to the Steering Committee of the Assembly, the FP proposed that the country be a federal republic consisting of five states made up as follows: (i) Southern and Western provinces, (ii) North Central and North Western provinces (iii) Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces (iv) Northern Province and the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and (v) Ampara district. The city of Colombo and its suburbs were to be administered by the centre. A list of subjects and functions reserved for the centre, with all others going to the states, was included. Interestingly, law and order and Police were to be reserved subjects.

However, Assembly proceedings show that the Tamils were clearly for a compromise. Dharmalingam, who was a main speaker of the FP under Basic Resolution No. 2, stated that the existing constitution had failed as it was not designed for a multi-ethnic country. He pointed out that in ethnically heterogeneous countries where unitary constitutions had been in operation, concessions to the federal principle have been made to meet the demands and aspirations of the minorities. Where there has been a refusal to concede the federal principle, there have been movements for separation. The FP distanced itself from secessionists such as C. Sunderalingam and V. Navaratnam, referring to them by name, and stated that it was not asking for a division of the country but for a division of power.

Dharmalingam made it clear that the FP’s draft was only a basis for discussion. Stating that the party was only asking that the federal principle be accepted, he suggested that as an interim measure, the SLFP, LSSP and CP should implement what they had promised in the election manifesto, namely that they would abolish Kachcheris and replace them with elected bodies. He stated: “If this Government thinks that it does not have a mandate to establish a federal Constitution, it can at least implement the policies of its leader, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, by decentralising the administration, not in the manner it is being done now, but genuine decentralisation, by removing the Kachcheris and in their place establishing elected bodies to administer those regions.”

Sarath Muttetuwegama of the Communist Party, the first political party in the country to propose federalism, in 1944, followed Dharmalingam and stated that ‘federal’ had become a dirty word not because of the federal system of government but because of what the FP had advocated. He was clearly referring to the FP’s association with the UNP and the conservative policies it had followed, such as voting against nationalisations, the takeover of private schools and the Paddy Lands Bill. Seemingly oblivious to the offer that Dharmalingam had made, he asked why the FP had not used the phrase ‘regional autonomy.’ Speakers from the UF who followed Muttetuwegama made it clear that the UF was in no mood to consider the FP’s offer to settle for much less.

Consequently, Basic Resolution No.2 was passed, and the FP’s amendment was defeated in the Steering and Subjects Committee on 27 March 1971.

Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, who was the Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, under the UF Government, and played an important role in the constitutional reform process, has said that the first draft prepared under the direction of the Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not contain any reference to a ‘unitary state’. However, Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike proposed in the Ministerial Sub-Committee that the country be declared a ‘unitary state’. The Minister of Constitutional Affairs did not consider this to be necessary and argued that while the proposed constitution would have a unitary structure, unitary constitutions could vary a great deal in form. Nevertheless, the proposed phrase found its way to the final draft. ‘In course of time, this impetuous, ill-considered, wholly unnecessary embellishment has reached the proportions of a battle cry of individuals and groups who seek to achieve a homogenous Sinhalese state on this island’ Dr Jayawickrama observed. ‘Reflections on the Making and Content of the 1972 Constitution: An Insider’s Perspective’ in Asanga Welikala (ed), The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice vol 1 (Centre for Policy Alternatives 2012) 43.

It is significant that the FP continued to participate in the Constituent Assembly even after its amendment was rejected. Records show that its leader, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, regularly attended the meetings of the Steering and Subjects Committee.

With the advantage of hindsight, it could be said that acceptance of the FP’s proposed compromise for a division of power would have proved to be a far-reaching confidence-building measure on which more could perhaps have been built later. Moreover, such an acceptance would have ensured the continued participation of the FP in the Constituent Assembly. Even had the FP, as the UNP eventually did, voted against the adoption of the new constitution, their participation in the entire constitution-making process would have resulted in greater acceptance of the 1972 Constitution by the Tamil people.

Although they discontinued participation at a later stage, Federal Party MPs nevertheless took oaths under the new Constitution. Tamil parties soon united under the banner of the Tamil United Front (TUF), which later became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At the famous Vaddukoddai conference of 1976, the TULF embraced separatism and adopted a resolution calling for a separate state called ‘Tamil Eelam’ in the Northern and Eastern provinces. At the 1977 elections, the TULF contested on a separatist platform and swept the Tamil areas.

The place of Buddhism

According to Dr Jayawickrama, Dr. de Silva’s original proposal called for the guarantee of freedom of thought, conscience and religion to every citizen. However, the Prime Minister requested that this proposal be added with a provision for the protection of institutions and traditional places of worship of Buddhists.

Basic Resolution No. 3 approved by the Constituent Assembly was for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’: ‘In the Republic of Sri Lanka, Buddhism, the religion of the majority of the people, shall be given its rightful place, and accordingly, it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Basic Resolution 5 (iv).’

Basic Resolution 5 (iv) referred to read: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have and adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

But by the time the final draft was approved, the proposal had undergone a further change. Article 6 of the 1972 Constitution is as follows: ‘The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).’ Section 18 (1) (d), in the chapter on fundamental rights, assures to all citizens the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

To the question of whether constitutionally guaranteeing special status to Buddhism not available to other religions of the land might adversely affect the non-Buddhists, Dr de Silva retrospectively responded in the following manner: “The section in respect of Buddhism is subject to section 18 (1) (d) and I wish to say, I believe in a secular state. But you know when Constitutions are made by Constituent Assemblies they are not made by the Minister of Constitutional Affairs. I myself would have preferred (section 18(1) (d)). But there is nothing…And I repeat, NOTHING, in section 6 which in any manner infringes upon the rights of any religion in this country. (Safeguards for the Minorities in the 1972 Constitution (Young Socialist 1987) 10.)

Dr Jayawickrama has been more critical. ‘If Buddhism had survived in the hearts and minds of the people through nearly five centuries of foreign occupation, a constitutional edict was hardly necessary to protect it now’, he opined. (‘Colvin and Constitution-Making – A Postscript’ Sunday Island, 15 July 2007).

Language provisions

Basic Resolution No.11 stated that all laws shall be enacted in Sinhala and that there shall be a Tamil translation of every law so enacted.

Basic Resolution No.12 read as follows: “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala as provided by the Official Language Act No. 32 of 1956. (2) The use of the Tamil Language shall be in accordance with the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act No. 28 of 1958.”

Efforts by the FP to get the Government to improve upon Basic Resolutions Nos. 11 and 12 failed. On 28 June 1971, both resolutions were passed, amendments proposed by the FP having been defeated. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam informed the Constituent Assembly that they had met with both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, and while the meetings had been cordial, the Government had refused to make any alteration to the Basic Resolutions. He stated that the FP would therefore not attend future meetings. “We have come to the painful conclusion that as our language rights are not satisfactorily provided in the proposed Constitution, no useful purpose will be served in our continuing in the deliberations of this Assembly. By taking this step, we mean no offence to anybody. We only want to safeguard the dignity of our people.” There was not even a dramatic walk out. ‘We do not wish to stage a demonstration by walking out’, he added.

That Dr Colvin R. de Silva, who prophetically stated in 1955, ‘one language, two countries; two languages, one country’, should go so far as to upgrade the then-existing language provisions to constitutional status has baffled many political observers. In fact, according to Dr Jayawickrama, the Prime Minister had stated that it would be unwise to re-open the language debate and that the better course would be to let the ordinary laws on the subject operate in the form in which they were. By this time, the Privy Council had reversed the decision of the Supreme Court in A.G. v Kodeswaranthat a public servant could not sue the Crown for breach of contract of employment and sent the case back for a determination on other issues, including the main issue as to whether the Official Language Act violated section 29 (2), as the District Court had held. Dr. de Silva did not wish the Supreme Court to re-visit the issue. ‘If the courts do declare this law invalid and unconstitutional, heavens alive, the chief work done from 1956 onwards will be undone. You will have to restore the egg from the omelette into which it was beaten and cooked.’ He had, however, resisted a proposal made by Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike that Sinhala be declared the ‘one’ official language of Sri Lanka.

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