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Ministry of Justice Law Reforms: Clarifying and updating law and finding solutions, or creating more problems and confusion?

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By Kalyananda Tiranagama

Executive Director

Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

As reported by the media, over the past one year and more, addressing meetings at various places of lawyers, Judges and public officials and the media, Minister of Justice Ali Sabry, PC has spoken of steps taken by him to modernise the law by reforming and amending outdated laws.

During a visit to the new courts complex building at the Beligaha Junction, Galle on December 23, 2020, and addressing the media the Minister said, ‘To expedite justice process we have made a lot of efforts to enact new laws amending the outdated laws. Within the last three months, we have amended 37 laws and 30 more new laws to be enacted in the coming months.’

Commencing work at the Ministry of Justice for the New Year on 01 January, 2021, the Minister said, ‘After 1947 our legal system has not been updated. Within the last three months we have amended 37 laws. With these amendments unprecedented relief will be granted to the people through courts.

One can get an idea as to how these legal reforms are done from the following passages in a full page advertisement published by the Ministry in all the newspapers in all three languages on January 25, 2021 under the title – Ministry of Justice – Overview of Projected Reforms and Development:

C. i. Increase in Budget allocation

– The Ministry of Justice’s standard Budget allocation over the years has been Rs. 4,500 million

– The government in 2021, allocated an unprecedented sum of Rs. 20,000 million to the justice sector for infrastructure development and digitalisation amongst other key improvements. This reflects the largest ever commitment by a govt in the history of the country towards a complete reform and development of the justice sector.

iii. Special Project Unit of the Ministry of Justice

* The creation of five sub-committees was the brainchild of Mohamed Ali Sabry PC, the Minister of Justice. One of his earliest tasks after taking office was the submission of a comprehensive Cabinet Memorandum setting out the issues clearly and detailing a two year plan to fix laws delays.

* It provides for the creation of five sub-committees headed by dynamic lawyers from the private bar who would work together to come up with a complete solution to the problem. Cabinet Memorandum was approved by the Cabinet, thus giving the Ministry of Justice the green light to go ahead with the plan.

* The Cabinet has allocated an impressive expanse of resources for this project – a full-blown secretariat, staff and all the facilities necessary for the sub-committees to carry out their objective.

* This is the first time that the state has fully backed such a mammoth endeavour to reform the law.

* The terms of reference are precise and reflect a very clear overall plan.

* The five sub-Committees are 1. Infrastructure Development 2. Digitalization and Court Automation 3. Criminal Law Reforms 4. Civil Law Reforms 5. Commercial Law Reforms

As mentioned in this advertisement itself, the Budget allocation of the Ministry has been increased five times from Rs. 4,500 million to Rs. 20,000 million. It is the largest ever commitment by a government in the history of the country for judicial and legal reforms. It is a reflection of the importance the government has attached to legal and judicial reforms expected by the people over decades.

It is a mammoth endeavour to reform the law entrusted to five sub-committees headed by dynamic lawyers from the private bar. The creation of five sub-committees was the brainchild of the Minister. The terms of reference are precise and reflect a very clear overall plan.

As disclosed by the Minister in his public announcements, the number of laws identified for reforms and amendment is going up from month to month. Addressing a meeting at Medawachchiya on 27 October, 2021, the Minister has said that Cabinet had received suggestions for amending 60 laws and a lot of laws would be amended in the next six – 12 months. There are many antiquated laws that were adversely affecting the people. Some of these obstruct development and they needed to be amended.

In an interview with The Sunday Divaina newspaper of 28 November 2021, the Minister stated that since he assumed duties as the Minister of Justice, 14 months ago, steps had been taken to amend 84 laws, already 10 amended, about 20 had been submitted to the Cabinet for approval and about another 30 sent to the Legal Draftsman. Things have never moved so fast.

On the occasion of the opening of the Debt Conciliation Board Office at Gampaha on 29 December 2021, the Minister said that during the last one year 10 new laws enacted reforming outdated laws and steps were being taken to amend 98 laws in the coming days.

In our laws, there are many provisions that are outdated and lack clarity, resulting in injustice or inconsistent with generally accepted norms of human rights, or obstructing the smooth and effective implementation of the law. There are many issues encountered in the administration of criminal justice that need to be addressed, but have remained unaddressed for decades without required legal provisions to address them. There are many areas where the law needs to be further strengthened and improved to address issues encountered in emerging situations.

With these public utterances of the Minister, the legal fraternity and the people of the country undoubtedly expected the Ministry to identify not only a few outdated expressions in the law but also main problem areas and lacunae in the law encountered by the people in their search for justice and by the law enforcement authorities and that need to be urgently addressed with reforms required for smooth and effective implementation. What the country needs is substantial legal reforms aimed at addressing the issues that frequently come up in the administration of justice and enforcement of the law, and not some superficial or ornamental amendments.

The following 30 Acts have been passed by Parliament in 2021. Out of them 23 are Amendments brought to existing Acts and 7 (shown in bold letters) are newly enacted laws. The first 8 Amendment Acts were passed in the first week of January, receiving the endorsement of the Speaker on January 18, 2021.

1.

Shop and Office Employees (Regulation of Employment and Remuneration) (Amendment) Act No. 1 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

2.

Employment of Women. Young Persons and Children (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

3.

Minimum Wages (Indian Labour) (Amendment) Act No. 3 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

4.

Factories (Amendment) Act No. 4 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

5.

Penal Code (Amendment) Act No. 5 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

6.

Evidence (Amendment) Act No. 6 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

7.

Bail (Amendment) Act No. 7 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

8.

Intellectual Property (Amendment) Act No. 8 of 2021 – (January 18, 2021)

9.

Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act No. 9 of 2021 – (May 13, 2021)

10.

Inland Revenue (Amendment) Act No. 10 of 2021 – (May 13, 2021)

11.

Colombo Port City Economic Commission Act No. 11 of 2021- ( May 27, 2021)

12.

Fiscal Management (Responsibility) (Amendment) Act No. 12 of 2021 (June 14, 2021)

13.

Sri Lanka Land Development Corporation (Amendment) Act No. 13 of 2021 (June 30, 2021)

14.

Code of Criminal Procedure. (Amendment) Act No. 14 of 2021 (July 15, 2021)

15.

Torture Convention (Amendment) Act No. 15 of 2021 – (July 15, 2021)

16. National Minimum Wage of Workers (Amendment) Act No. 16 of 2021 (August 16, 2021)

17. Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 17 of 2021 – (August 23, 2021)

18.

Finance Act No 18 of 2021 (September 15, 2021)

19. Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka Act No. 19 of 2021 – (September 21, 2021)

20. Consumer Affairs Authority (Amendment) Act No. 20 of 2021 – (September 22, 2021)

21.

Petroleum Resources Act No. 21 of 2021

22.

Registration of Electors (Amendment) Act No. 22 of 2021

23.

Employees Provident Fund (Amendment) Act No. 23 of 2021

24.

Youthful Offenders (Training Schools) (Amendment) Act No. 24 of 2021 (2021. 10. 21)

25.

Penal Code (Amendment) Act No. 25 of 2021

26.

Appropriation (Amendment) Act No. 26 of 2021

27.

Immigrants and Emigrants (Amendment) Act No. 27 of 2021 – (12/11/2021)

28

. Minimum Retirement Age of Workers Act No. 28 of 2021

29

. Termination of Employment of Workmen (Special Provisions) (Amendment) Act No. 29 of 2021 – (17/11/2021)

30.

Appropriation Act No. 30 of 2021

However, when one examines the above amendments, it appears that some of them are nominal and superficial, some are meaningless, redundant and ridiculous, and in some others only some marginal issues are touched, ignoring the real ones that need to be urgently addressed, especially in relation to the administration of criminal justice. Some other amendments are totally unnecessary and impracticable and create unnecessary problems.

The first four amendments in the list of Acts amended relate to the increase of the minimum age of employment of children from 14 years to 16 years and the definition of the words, ‘child’ and ‘young person’. The definition of the word ‘child’ has been amended to mean ‘a person under the age of 16 years’ and the definition of the word ‘young person’ has been amended to mean ‘a person who has attained the age of 16 years, but is under the age of 18 years’. All these 4 Acts have been amended by replacing the phrases – ‘a person under the age of 16 years’ with the word ‘child’; ‘a person who has attained the age of 16 years, but is under the age of 18 years’ with the words ‘young person’ and ’14 years’ with ’16 years’ in the relevant sections in the Acts. Though it is a simple, clerical job without requiring much knowledge of law, it is undoubtedly a salutary step taken to protect the interests of children belonging to the age group of 14 – 16 years.

(To be continued)



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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