Features
Appointing of Presidentís Counsel
Chandrika made it a joke
by Mike Andree

Every time a President appoints Presidentís Counsel it leads to serious controversy among the members of the profession. As is well known, J. R. Jayewardene amended the Constitution to prevent the Chief Justice from appointing suitable lawyers, who had achieved eminence in the profession, as PCs.

When a certain junior was appointed as a Presidentís Counsel along with his senior and the Letters of Patent would make both the senior and the junior having parity of status, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, then headed by Desmond Fernando, framed rules and forwarded same to President R. Premadasa. It was decided that lawyers must have at least 20 years practice and the names of members who apply should be forwarded to the Bar Association, Attorney-General and the Chief Justice for ratification. It is common ground that that the only President who followed these dictates was none other than President Premadasa. It was during his time that Desmond Fernando was elevated to the position of Presidentís Counsel.

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga flouted these dictates with impunity, and a glaring example was the appointment of K. Balapatabendi, her own Secretary as a Presidentís Counsel. Ran Banda Seneviratne, one of the wittiest lawyers produced by the Bar, who also hailed from the Wanni Hathpatthuwa, immediately after the appointment of Presidentís Counsel said in the Supreme Court that the first Presidentís Counsel was a donkey. He said, amidst roars of laughter, that an ancient king who could not verify the truth of a story narrated by the plaintiff or the defendant, took refuge in bringing the royal donkey to Court and said if the judgment was to be given in favour of the plaintiff, the donkey would shake its head and if the judgment was in favour of the defendant the donkey would wag its tail and the whole country was astounded by the correctness of the judgment given by the King and he appointed the donkey as the Kingís Counsel. Ran Banda Seneviratne was removed forthwith as a presenter of an extremely popular childrenís show televised by Rupavahini.

Last year, all newspapers had banner headlines of the protest made by Ikram Mohamed, PC, the then President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, when the Executive Committee of the Bar Association met Chandrika Bandaranaike. Just before she relinquished her office as President she hastily appointed four or five Attorneys-at-Law as Presidentís Counsel. I will not go into the suitability or otherwise of these gentlemen, as other than the immediate kith and kin of these gentlemen the entire Bar will have one common voice about their suitability.

According to media reports, the Chief Justice has told the newly appointed Presidentís Counsel to take their oaths before the Registrar of the Supreme Court, if they so wish. We also note that in the recent past Desmond Fernando has been issuing press releases at the drop of a hat creating divisions in the profession and putting the members into difficulty as far as the judiciary is concerned.

Then there was another news item that that the Bar Association has imposed a censorship as regards to the issuing of press releases and stated that such press releases should obtain prior approval from the Executive Committee of the Bar Association. Violating its own dictum he has informed the Press that he is seeking an interview with Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President requesting him to ratify the appointments made by the outgoing President in haste. I do not know whether, at least in this instance, she consulted the Bar Association, Attorney- General or the Chief Justice. It is very unlikely that she would have done this in haste like when she transferred monies from the Presidentís Fund. We are fortunate to have a President who has taken a decision to stop the payment on these cheques.

It is my view that the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court should not only protect the rights of the citizens but also protect the litigants from some, political stooges who are charging exorbitant fees purely on the basis that they are Presidentís Counsel where their only qualification was to stooge the politicians in power.

There is no person other than the Chief Justice who is eminently suited to decide whether a lawyer is suitable or not to be elevated to the position of Presidentís Counsel, though the President can have the power, under the Constitution, to appoint Presidentís Counsel the Supreme Court must resolve to call all those persons whom it thinks fit to sit in the Inner Bar.

If the Supreme Court makes such a decision it will also have the salutary effect and make any President in future consult the Chief Justice before elevating lawyers to the position of Presidentís counsel.

 

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