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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Minister of Justice Ali Sabry, PC has spoken of steps taken by him to modernise the law by reforming and amending outdated laws.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the media the Minister said, ‘To expedite justice process we have made a lot of efforts to enact new laws amending the outdated laws.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)



Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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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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