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'A court of justice is a sacred temple'

Mr. Attorney, Mr. President, it is with, deep humility and sincerity that I accept the kind and encouraging sentiments expressed this morning said Justice P.A. Ratnayake at the ceremonial sittings of the Supreme Court held to welcome him recently

It is scarcely necessary for me to say that today is an important day in my life. It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to continue to serve the public; henceforth, as a judge of this apex court. As I assume this exalted office, I am mindful that I am now occupying a seat which as been held by several distinguished judges of great skill, character and extensive legal learning in our long and rich legal history. A court of justice is a sacred temple. The Supreme Court being the apex court assumes a pre-eminent position from among them.

It is hardly necessary for me to extol the importance and dignity of this office. However, to put it simply, we have to do justice. Justice is the unfailing disposition to give everyone his legal due. To do this we have to expound and interpret the law and, it must be so done honestly, fairly, patiently, attentively and impartially without fear or favour. These are essential prerequisites for the people to continue to repose their trust and confidence in us when we exercise their sovereign judicial power in terms of Article 4 of the Constitution.

The pre-requisites referred to by me have important historical' value. Lord Denning in his book the Closing Chapter traces the history of the sword in the justice emblem as a sign of impartiality. He cites Shakespeare who refers to an incident where King Henry V was committed to prison as a young adolescent price by His Lordship the Chief Justice of England. When the Prince became King it was anticipated that he would remove His Lordship the Chief Justice who committed him to prison. Instead he assured His Lordship the Chief Justice to use the unstained sword with the same bold, just and impartial spirit as it had been used against him. However, "Impartiality" for our legal system has far more ancient roots that pre-date our colonial legal heritage. It was firmly embedded in the legal system when judicial power was exercised, by the monarchy. Mahavamsa records at pages 13-14 in Chapter XXI that Kin Elara as far back as in 161 BC ruled "with justice towards friend and foe on occasions of disputes at law". Saddharmalankaraya records a similar statement at page 452 that King Kavantissa was advised to rule "rightly and impartially". These statements regarding impartiality are important to us, today, despite their ancient vintage. They form the bedrock of principles of independence of the judiciary and are acclaimed as principles of International Law and are also enshrined in our Constitution.

Jonathan Swift as far back as in 1724 in Seasonable advice to the grand jury remarked that "If books and Law continue to increase as they have done for fifty years past; I am in some concern for future ages, how any man will be learned, or any man a lawyer". It would be fair to say that two and half centuries later this statement made in 1724 would have greater relevance to us today because of the rapid growth in the volume of legal literature. The law as we studied it in our days at the University/Law College has under gone tremendous change in recent times and more importantly it has grown in volume exponentially. Information Technology, is a good example, of growth of law in recent times that has not got sufficient attention. Today Information Technology is the back bone of commerce or "e-commerce" as it is more appropriately called. With it we now have an entire relatively novel jurisprudence of Information Technology Law. The progression in this field has been so rapid that there is now an active discourse in the application of all the traditional subjects of law such as, taxation, conflict of laws, law of contracts, intellectual property, law of defamation, law of evidence, and sale of goods etc., focused only with reference to Information Technology. I doubt if we have kept pace with it at any rate I do not think we have done enough to build up the legal jurisprudence relating to it in contrast to other comparative jurisdictions in the region. Information Technology Law is only an example. There are other areas of commercial law that warrant similar sentiments. Space Law, for example, is a new subject that has barely made any entry into any of the legal literature in Sri Lanka, although it is now of considerable importance particularly if this country is thinking of launching its own satellite. The legal jurisprudence relating to Law of the Sea and Law of Shipping is another topic that has similarly not kept pace with changes in time. I do hope that we could arrest these trends by setting precedents in commercial law that set the water marks for legal jurisprudence in the region.

We must recognise the contribution of the members of the official and unofficial bar towards the development of the law. It is often their innovation that results in setting landmarks in the law. The quality of judgments that we may pronounce are to a considerable degree contingent on the quality and innovativeness of legal research and submissions of counsel.

Therefore, I subscribe to the belief that all the members of the legal profession should endeavour to keep abreast with the developments in the law and they deserve the benefit of advanced training in specialized fields of law at seats of learning both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

For our part, as judges, we, must display patience, tolerance, attentiveness and retain an open mind to the submissions of Counsel. Justice McKenna once observed in the Modern Law review that "Patience is essential". But as I said before, these are not novel concepts by any means as the same sentiments have been expressed in the following stanza from the Dhammapada. I quote:

"Na tena hoti dhammattho

yenatthan sahasa naye

yo cha atthan anatthan cha

ubho niccheyya panditho" (19:1)

"Who ever judges hastily does not uphold the Dhamma, a wise one should investigate the truth and untruth".

I would also like to make reference to the commonly discussed subject of laws delay. I would like to place on record the effectiveness of the provisions in the High Court of the Provinces (Special Provisions) (Amendment) Act, No. 54 of 2006 to deal with the backlog of cases in respect of civil appeals. When supporting the draft legislation which came up as an urgent bill before the Supreme Court, I submitted to Court, statistics which indicated the serious nature of the problem the judicial system of the country faced, in the disposal of civil appeals. Since the civil appeal courts have now been established and the law is being implemented, there is an obligation on the bar and the judiciary to do everything possible to ensure that this law is implemented to achieve its desired objectives.

The Attorney General's Department was my second home for thirty 30 years. I am deeply indebted to the senior officers of this Department, both past and present, including His Lordship the Chief Justice, the Hon'ble Attorney General and other brother Justices. I would like to make a special reference to the Hon'ble Attorney General, Solicitor General and other Senior Officers with whom I worked over a long period of time. We worked as a team and I carry with me pleasant memories of my stay in the Department. I also want to express my gratitude to my contemporaries and juniors from whom I have learnt much and with whom I have enjoyed life to the fullest.

I must also refer to the long standing practice of officers of the Attorney General's Department being elevated to the judiciary. Indeed this is an old tradition that has witnessed eminent legal personalities perform a yeoman service. Justice Walter Pereira K. C., Justice Sir Anton Bertram, Justice Sir Thomas Garvin, Justice Sir E. A. L. Wijewardene and Justice Sir Allan Rose, to name a prominent few, are among the officers from the Attorney General's Department who adorned this Bench from the early 20th century. In fact, the only Sri Lankan to serve the judicial committee of the Privy Council, was the Rt. Hon. L. M. D. de Silva Q.C., who was at one time an acting Attorney General. This tradition has continued even in more recent times with Justice Hema Basnayake Q.C., Justice Victor Tennekoon Q.C., Justice R. S. Wanasundere, Justice G. P. S. de Silva an His Lordship the Chief Justice being some of the most learned members of the judiciary recruited from the Attorney General's Department. In fact His Lordship the Chief Justice functioned as the Attorney General and supervised my work when we were in the Attorney General's Department and I consider it to be a privilege to be elevated to this Court during the tenure of office of His Lordship the Chief Justice from whom I learnt much during his long and distinguished career in the Attorney General's Department.

I am extremely fortunate that my mother, who courageously supported me after my father's demise and to whom I am eternally grateful, is able to see me ascend to the apex court. I must also thank my wife, my two sons who have supported me in every way throughout my legal career.

I am deeply grateful to all members of the judiciary, the official and unofficial bar and everyone else who graced this occasion to welcome me to the bench.

May the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem be with you.

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