Can anyone remember November 2018? That was the year the UNP praised the judiciary so fulsomely that the party leaders and elders were running out of words. Here is an excerpt from a news item in 2018: “Sri Lanka’s ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe praising the judiciary after the Supreme Court ruled that the dissolution of parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena last month was unconstitutional and illegal, expected the President to respect the court’s judgement.”
Wickremesinghe praised the judiciary. Others such as Eran Wickramaratne were to follow. “The Judiciary in its finest hour,” screamed one article by a UNP civil society type. “Historic”, said another. “Nothing short of a watershed event in Sri Lanka’s constitutional history”, piped up yet one more. So it went.
However, Eran Wickramaratne was seen haranguing the judiciary last week. He said, “those who ought to be in jail are outside, and those who ought to be outside are inside.”
“Murderers such as Premalal Jayasekara are in parliament. Ranjan Ramanayake has not robbed. Ranjan Ramanayake has not murdered. If so, there should have been a charge, a case, a story. But Ranjan Ramanayake was jailed for four years. You have the freedom to criticise Court judgements. We have some archaic laws, so the judiciary is enforcing those laws,” Wickramaratne said, frothing at the mouth, and palpably in high-dudgeon.
MP Ramanayake has forfeited his parliamentary seat, as opposed to MP Premalal.
Premalal Jayasekara has not exhausted his two appeals. Ramanayake on the contrary was convicted of contempt by the Supreme Court and sentenced to four years and he doesn’t have any appeal from a judgement from the highest court. That’s how the law works.
Who is Eran Wickramaratne inveighing against? Against the Government and the judiciary of course, which he is accusing — in a thinly veiled manner — of aiding and abetting the Government in what he portrays as an attack on the Opposition.
The finest judiciary, which gave the watershed judgement in 2018 has fallen this far in the eyes of Wickramaratne and the former UNP high command. Wickramaratne himself is skirting contempt with these assertions, but he thinks it doesn’t matter — the judiciary, he seems to think, has to be put in its place. Hang judicial process, hang the laws, hang the appeals process and what that entails, the Opposition has been grievously wronged, and those responsible have to pay! That’s Eran’s call.
His message is clear — the judiciary when it works for us, is independent and has to be feted. If any judgements go against us, the judiciary is wrongheaded and should be mocked, and vilified. He pops in the little caveat about archaic laws, but the laws with regard to appeals are not old. They are the same laws that apply in all self-respecting jurisdictions of the world. There are around two appeals available to every sentenced criminal, alleged murderer or otherwise.
Let’s also see how these countries that are said to have bequeathed the contempt laws to us here in Sri Lanka are doing with regard to contempt matters. This is how a London based news website recently reported the sentencing of far-right activist Tommy Robinson for contempt of court:
“Tommy Robinson has been sentenced to prison after a high court found him to be in contempt of court for obstruction of justice on Friday.
The founder of the far right English Defence League, whose real name is Steven Yaxley-Lennon, will face up to two years in prison for filming defendants in a criminal trial and posting the footage on social media, breaching a reporting ban.”
Two years in prison for contempt. How does that compare with our four years for Ranjan Ramanayake who flagrantly called good judges corrupt? This man Tommy Robinson gets two years for filming outside a Courthouse — a forbidden act in the UK. He would have probably got four years had he called the Judge corrupt and contemptible in the process — considering that he got two years for the mere act of filming litigants near Court. You may as well replace the name of Tommy Robinson with Ranjan Ramanayake there.
By the way, how do these jurisdictions compare in matters of appeal, and criminal offenders sitting in Parliament?
Here is the relevant extract from the Representation of the People Act 1981, and Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984, U.K:
A person sentenced to more than one year’s imprisonment or detention for an offence committed in the UK or elsewhere (including those repatriated from overseas prisons) is disqualified for election to, or if already a Member of sitting and voting in, the House or its Committees. The seat of any Member so disqualified is declared vacant and a new writ issued for a by-election. End quote.
So that’s out of the way. A person sentenced to more than one year for an offence is disqualified and cannot sit as a Member of Parliament in the U.K.
Just how does such a Member fare if he has appealed the sentence, by the way? These are the provisions for the UK House of Commons, extracted from the same legal enactment cited above:
Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information Office Factsheet G6: When a Member is imprisoned for any length of time, more or less than a year, the sentencing judge or magistrate will inform the Speaker of the detention by letter. If a Member is convicted, but released on bail pending appeal, or is fined, the Judge or Magistrate does not have to inform the Speaker. End quote.
“Does not have to inform the Speaker”, unless anyone is overtly keen on splitting hairs, means that any MP who is convicted and is out on bail pending appeal is entitled to participate in all proceedings of the House.
So would Boris Johnson or say any British Cabinet Minister or shadow Cabinet Minister rail against the Court and say that the Courts have “sent those who deserve to be free to jail, while those who deserve to be jailed are free,” if an MP has been convicted of a serious crime and is free to attend parliamentary sessions pending appeal?
Would Boris Johnson, or say Rishi Sunak lambaste the Courts and the system if an MP accused of contempt of Supreme Court, on the other hand, was jailed for two years — as Tommy Robinson was?
Very probably not but then Eran Wickramaratne would — or would he, if he was in the UK?
How could he, when he’s the bloke who had such confidence in the Englishmen and their methods that he virtually was in seventh heaven when the Brits didn’t include Sri Lanka in the list of some 40 counties from which they accepted travellers at the time our second Covid-19 wave hadn’t even begun?
Here is a quote from a website that that splashed the story at that time:
“If we believe that our living standards depend on foreign investment, foreign technology, then we have to build trust,” Wickramaratne emphasised.
“When the United Kingdom announced a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter their country Sri Lanka was not on that list.”
“Now, we are a country which has a little over 2,000 patients but Singapore which has more than 45,000 patients got on the list,” Wickramaratne said.
See? He has such mind numbing confidence in the way the British do things. Yet, when we do almost the exact things that the British do with their contempt of court laws, and their laws for disqualifying sitting MPS, he lambastes our courts as if our courts are in the pocket of our elected Government.
Not nice, eh? Not very nice!