Justice Dr. L. M. Jayaratne: Judge who feared none

***His Academic and professional qualifications aren’t easy to match


Take a lawyer, judge, scholar, holder of a Bachelor of Laws degree and a Doctorate in Law, writer and governor, put them together and you have just one personality that fits the bill. He is none other than Justice Dr. Leslie Mervyn Jayaratne, who it can be said is probably the most qualified Justice, both, professionally and academically, in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Jayaratne, who launched his legal career as a proctor, ended up as a High Court Judge not only in Sri Lanka but in Fiji too. He was also a Barrister –at-Law (Inner Temple, London) where he signed the Roll.

Hailing from the village of Ahangama, in the deep South, Dr. Jayaratne began his schooling at Ahangama Dharmarama School and later moved to Mahinda College Galle, where he studied upto the 3rd Standard before winding up at St. Peter’s College where he sat for the Senior Schools Certificate. From there he entered Law College, passed out as a Proctor and practiced in Matara.

Dr. Jayaratne, once dubbed the Legal-Lion-Heart, was proud of the fact that he was a lawyer who never practised under a senior. "I never had a senior. I never studied under a senior; I was by myself, right from A-Z. I did very well, I think."

One memorable moment in his life was when he appeared as an assigned counsel with E. F. N. Gratien and George Rajapaksa in a complicated murder case at the Galle Assize Court, Dr. Jayaratne said.

After almost seven years of practicing and soon after entering wedded life, with Yvonne Linda Rohini Gunaratne, Dr. Jayaratne and his newly wedded wife left for the United Kingdom to further their studies.

Dr. Jayaratne graduated from the University of London, obtaining his Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B). At about the same time, he joined the Inner Temple, London and passed out as a Barrister-at-Law and was called to English Bar in 1969. He signed the Roll of Barristers in the Queen’s Bench Division, which entitled him to appear in England, Wales and the Privy Council as well. On returning to Sri Lanka, he was called to Bar in 1969 as an advocate.

In 1971 Dr. Jayaratne joined the Sri Lankan Judiciary as Magistrate. His first posting was Negombo. While there he did his LL.M and commenced research for his doctorate under Professor G.L. Peiris of the Colombo University. Dr. Jayaratne said Prof. G. L. Pieris’ assistance was immense.

In early 1971 Dr. Jayaratne was appointed Magistrate of the then newly established Price Control Court in Hultsfdorp, under Minister T. B. Ilangaratne. After a span of 18 years in the judiciary, while presiding as Colombo High Court Judge, he was invited by the Chief Justice of Fiji to take up appointment as Supreme Court judge due to his knowledge of English Law and Procedure. As Justice of the High Court of Fiji, Dr Jayaratne was tasked with trying a rather volatile and sensational case, filed by the Fijian Army, against 18 Fiji born Indians on a charge of treason. On the day of the trail, the Court had been packed to capacity with the military, including the Army Commander. The prosecution had been led by a string of Lawyers from the AG’s department. There being no evidence of treason, the charge was diluted to one under the Fire Arms Ordinance, for possessing unlicensed firearms. All accused, except two, pleaded guilty and were bound over. That sentence infuriated the Army and on that night the Judge’s car was severely damaged. Dr. Jayaratne had escaped death by the skin of his teeth.

After a tour of three years in Fiji, Dr Jayaratne returned to Sri Lanka and was appointed Governor of the Southern Province by the then President D.B. Wijetunga but with the change of Government he lost that posting.

While in Fiji, Dr. and Mrs. Jayaratne found time to study for their Doctorates – he in law and his wife Rohini in business administration. While there Dr. Jayaratne obtained his Ph.D. in Law from the Western Pacific University of California on the thesis Review of Commissions of inquiry’. He subsequently authored a more comprehensive book on Judicial Review of Commissions of Inquiry - Comparative Study. The book was praised by many a legal luminary from around the world. Right Honorable the Lord Sydney William Templeman, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1982 – 1994, in his Foreword said "In the present work, the author a judge of the High Court of Sri Lanka and formerly the Governor for the Southern Province in that Country, has examined the origins and development of Commissions of Inquiry and the Theory and practice of the control of the Courts exercised by way of Judicial review."

Judge of the Constitutional Court Joseph A. L. Cooray had commented, "Dr. Jayaratne’s comparative study of Commissions of Inquiry is timely and of great value. The author makes an incisive analysis of Commissions of Inquiry with regard to their utility value, their relation to the rights of the individual and the extent for their amenability to Judicial Review."

Dr. Jayaratne’s wife Rohini obtained her Doctorate (PhD) in Management from the University of West California. This was a unique achievement for the couple, for it is very rare in Sri Lanka that a husband and wife have both obtained the PhD.

Dr. Jayaratne firmly believes that to be a good Judge the following guideline is of importance:

A Judge:

* Has to be honest beyond blemish or suspicion of dishonesty.

* Has to dispense justice at a Temple of Justice and respect should be given to a judge.

* Has to expect the cooperation of the lawyers and the lawyers have to win the confidence of the judge.

* Should be fearless and not fearful of lawyers.

* Should become judicially popular and socially unfamiliar.

* Should avoid home jurisdiction.

* Should be in full control of the Trial Roll.

* Should not allow instincts, emotion, passions, anger to surface in the course of dispensation of cases.

* In dispensation of justice a judge ought to be fearless, placid and calm on the bench. Off the bench he has to be discreet, witty and sociable.

* Self imposed aloofness from society is a must. He/She should not wear the mantle of a socialite and should carefully sift the invitations to functions. Punctiliousness and punctuality go hand in hand. Zealousness and industry fortifies the foundation of a good judge.

* Justice must not only seem to be done but must be done and embarrassment must be avoided at any cost.

Another important occasion in Dr. Jayaratne’s life was the Sadaam Hussein trial, which he attended and was allowed to enter because of his reputation. He did not attend the full trial as it went on for months. He also witnessed the trial of Slobodan Milosevich in the International Court of Justice in The Hague International Court of Justice and the Dr. Jayaratne was also invited by the Queen to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1967.

In an article published in The Island Midweek Review on 21-02-2007 titled ‘A president to be emulated’, Dr Jayaratne wrote about President Mahinda Rajapaksa thus:

"Made of sterner stuff, like father like son, a proven Statesman unbending yet a pleasant and pleasing lawyer, Sri Lanka should be proud of an outgoing personality like Mahinda Rajapakse.…..

"MR has a heart large enough to accommodate peoples of all ethnic groups and to protect them from the beastly acts of terrorists. That is his commitment - to live peacefully in any part of Sri Lanka without any fear and threat be it day or night. The Mahinda Chinthanaya is tightly bound by this slogan, which is gathering momentum by the day. Even the Vannio aththos were not forgotten for Independence celebrations. His sporadic appeals to Prabhakaran and his cohorts, to join the democratic path of peace and solidarity is magnanimous amidst all their brutalities. He feels for the misguided youths as much as for the small children of this island nation. This attitude only extols the genuineness of his feelings and love for the country and its people without any racial discrimination. MR’s invitation to Prabhakaran to the negotiating table is salutary. His belief is to keep Sri Lanka integrated - never a division in his wildest dreams."

Other articles written by him include: ‘When Prince Charles and Diana visited Fiji’ (Dealing with his experience in that country), ‘Double Jeopardy’, ‘Anticipatory bail not a right’ and ‘Birth of International Criminal Court’.

"Blessed is the court Bathed with justice

Virtually called the Temple of Justice

Where none can Escape the legal hand

When crossed with the Law of the land"

This verse was written by Dr. Jayaratne, while travelling to Court and recited at the end of his submissions to the Court of Appeal in Galle, where he represented himself in a case.

Now, does all this not make Dr. Mervyn Jayaratne the most qualified and experienced Justice the country has produced?

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