Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria’s Textbook of Commercial Law
Reviewed By Dr Dayanath Jayasuriya P.C.
Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria is no stranger to the academic legal world. After a distinguished record at the University of Ceylon and then at Ceylon Law College- two institutions where he secured a first class- Wickrema was awarded a Ph.D. in Law by the London School of Economics for his pioneering work on banking law in Sri Lanka.
As a British colony, we inherited English principles governing commercial matters, including banking and cheques, through the Introduction of the Civil Law Ordinance of 1852. Over the decades, our courts of law had to grapple with issues that had to be resolved having regard to the peculiar trading habits and commercial transactions of an essentially export-oriented economy with a parallel informal economy that existed side-by-side. Another of Wickrema’s books which he published in the early 1970s on the Nattukottai Chettiar Merchant Bankers in Ceylon, is a fascinating socio-economic account of some of the dimensions of that informal economy.
Wickrema’s reputation as a banking and financial sector lawyer was recognized not only by international agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank but also by foreign universities. He was poised to carve out for himself a leading legal career following in the footsteps of his distinguished father, the late N. E. Weerasooria Q.C., but in the mid-1970s he was tempted by one of the rapidly expanding new Australian universities, Monash University, to join its Law Faculty where Professor Christopher Gregory Weeramantry had already established for himself a reputation as a scholar and teacher.
Dr. Weeraooria was to later become the head of the prestigious Monash Banking Law Centre. During his stint in Australia, which also covered a period as our High Commissioner in Canberra, he produced several books on Australian banking law; indeed, he has the rare distinction of one of his books being edited by other leading scholars under the title "Weerasooria’s Banking Law in Australia." That book has run into six editions and is now the leading Australian text on the subject.
The lack of an authoritative guide to Sri Lanka’s commercial law has been felt for many years. I recall numerous meetings which I attended at the Institute of Chartered Accountants - where I took over from Wickrema the teaching of some of the courses in commercial law and company law - when the dire need for a local publication was the subject of discussion. Besides volume 1 of a short casebook that I developed, these discussions unfortunately did not lead to the production of a textbook. Practitioners and students were thus compelled to rely on commercial law books written essentially by British authors.
Wickrema’s Textbook of Commercial Law (Business Law) has 45 chapters running into more than 950 pages. It is published by the prestigious Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM) where Wickrema has been lecturing for many years since his return to Sri Lanka in 2002. During the tenure of Professor Gunapala Nanayakkara, I myself lectured at the PIM and was impressed with PIM’s commitment to research and teaching. By sponsoring this publication, the PIM has filled a void that should have received the attention a long time ago of institutions such as the Law Faculty, Law College or the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
This textbook on Commercial Law is divided into six parts. Part 1 contains a succinct overview of the legal system and legal concepts. Part 2 is an introduction to the structure of business entities and transactions covering companies, partnerships, agent-principal, local and provincial authorities etc. Part 3 covers contracts, sale of goods, criminal law, torts, property law etc. Part 4 is of an unusual nature in that it highlights, based on media reports from 2004-2009, the vast range of commercial disputes that have arisen in this country. It is a small but a representative sample of the type of matters that are referred to courts, and to the regulatory authorities. Part 5 deals with special areas such as banking, money laundering, debt recovery, carriage by sea, etc. Part 6 deals with wills, trusts, consumer affairs, monopolies alternative dispute resolution, industrial and labour law and taxation. This part also contains a chapter on advertising law, the first of its kind in Sri Lanka.
Within the scope of 950 pages, the book deals with nearly 1,000 reported cases and over 250 laws. Wickrema Weerasooria has an incredible capacity to write clearly in plain English and also to summarize the essential features of legal enactments and judgments and this is what makes this textbook all the more important.
The book under review makes no pretensions to being an exhaustive study of the entire body of the local case law relating to each of the subjects covered in it. Indeed, a separate treatise on each subject or topic would be required for the purpose. However as Professor C.G. Weeramantry, former Vice President of the International Court of Justice (The World Court) who wrote the Foreword to this book, has said:- "Dr. Weerasooria’s text contains not only a meticulous discussion of all aspects of business and Commercial Law applicable in our country but it gives an appraisal of the sociological underpinnings of the law which only an author of his experience and ability can achieve".
Many generations of practitioners and law students will be eternally grateful to Wickrema for having produced such a succinct but at the same time an authoritative exposition of that vast body of statute law and case law governing businesses in this country. As the country is now poised to accelerate the pace of development, recognition of the role of law as an instrument of economic and social change as well as clarity in basic legal principles in the commercial arena assume greater importance than ever before and even developmental planners, regulators and administrators too would gain much by relying on this excellent overview.
There is no doubt that our country’s businessman, lawyers, judges and especially students interested in Commercial and Business Law will benefit immensely from Dr. Weerasooria’s text. I hope he will continue to write and add to our country’s legal literature. This text is moderately priced at Rs. 2,000/- and is available at the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Telephone 2689639/42