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CaptureThere is much discussion now on the independence of the judiciary, and this is essential. The politicization of the judiciary in the last couple of decades has been disgraceful, and we must take forceful steps to ensure that political controls, and even political influences, are minimized.

But we must also register that there is more to Good Governance than that. The judiciary too must be responsive to the needs of the people. In particular it must be recognized by all decision makers that justice delayed is justice denied. It must also be accepted that, if the cost of justice is prohibitive, it will become the preserve only of the rich. Simply equity demands that unnecessary costs are avoided.

During the election I was privileged to meet Nagananda Kodituwakku, who is now best known as a Public Interest Lawyer. But he has also served the people ably in a previous incarnation, when he was a senior official in the Customs, who had to seek political asylum when his energy and integrity came in the way of the money making of politicians and those with political connections. I believe this government would do well to go into some of the problems he had to face. Given his capacity to collect evidence, this might help to pin down some of the corruption that has thus far escaped censure.But my subject here is good governance, so I will confine myself to the suggestions he has made to improve our legal systems. I have sent these on to the Minister of Justice, but I have had no reply. He was positive when I reminded him of the matter, but I fear that, as happened with the last government, the incapacity to multi-task will lead to lots of productive reforms going by the board.

The first suggestion Mr Kodituwakku made in the paper he sent me was extremely simple, and could easily be implemented.

Abolishing the Court Vacation system.

As he explained, ‘The present Court Vacation system is a legacy from the British Colonial Rule. The UK has abolished this system long time ago, taking into consideration the valuable time being lost as a result of the said vacation system. In Sri Lanka however, this practice continues unabated, causing tremendous delays in dispense of justice.’

He also suggested that specific call-in time be allocated for all cases, and productive use of court time.

As he put it, ‘In Sri Lanka litigants, government officials, lawyers waste away their valuable time in Courthouses until their cases are being called. In the established democracies like UK from where we have inherited our judicial system the parties to a case are notified with a specific time to attend Court for their respective cases. Sri Lanka ought to adopt a similar system to save precious time and energy of the people attending court. In Sri Lanka the irreparable loss of man-hours is immeasurable due to the absence of such a system.

Connected with this perhaps was his suggestion that there be a ‘Compulsory time scale for Court sessions – Sittings in the entire Court system shall be made from 09.30to 4.00 pm. At any given time, a large number of cases are held up in the superior Court system downwards causing enormous economic and financial to all concerned.’

Thirdly he noted the need for More effcient Record Keeping

‘The current system is based on paper based case records. This system has led to various issues such as losing of case records, storage issues and inability to provide information swiftly as and when necessary causing tremendous to Court Staff, from Registrar downwards.

Therefore, it is suggested to introduce an effective computer based record keeping to the entire Court system.’ What he does not note is the possibility for corruption in the prevailing system, with records readily being lost on demand as it were.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2015
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