Remarkable Book by a World Renowned Jurist

A Book Review by Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria


The very next day after this review appears in this paper, Monday October 1, 2012, Judge Christopher Gregory Weeramantry will be honoured by Australia’s prestigious Monash University by the ceremonial launch of this second volume of his Memoirs entitled "TOWARDS ONE WORLD" – The Australian Years". The Vice Chancellor and President of Monash University Professor Ed Byrne AO will preside at the launch.

In a message now printed in the book, the Vice Chancellor states: "This Volume 2 of Judge Weeramantry’s Memoirs describes his years in Australia many of which were spent as an academic at Monash University. He had a stellar career in Sri Lanka as a lawyer and Supreme Court Judge before coming to Australia. At Monash Law School as the Sir Hayden Starke Professor of Law, he was one of the best regarded academics. Professor Weeramantry developed his vision in Law as a civilizing influence in society and analysed the social and ethical values which inform the development of the legal system. He was concerned by a decline in social standards and social harmony and felt that this related to general societal issues including a lack of respect for the law and the lack of understanding for the law. His subsequent career as an international Jurist has been outstanding. In recent years he has called upon his massive experience both as a human being and a Jurist to develop leadership programs for young people that are exemplary in their ability to cross national, racial and religious boundaries. Judge Weeramantry is a humanitarian of the highest caliber and I commend to all this fascinating autobiography".

To add to that tribute paid to Judge Weeramantry by Monash University’s Vice Chancellor, the book has an excellent Foreword to it by none other than one of Australia’s most well-known judges of the modern period – Sir Gerard Brennan AC, KBE, QC, former Chief Justice of Australia. Justice Brennan knew Professor Weeramantry and was indeed happy to provide the Foreword. In his Foreword Justice Brennan first acknowledges Professor Weeramantry’s high reputation as a legal practitioner and Supreme Court Judge in Sri Lanka before he joined the Monash Law School in 1972. He refers to Weeramantry’s two volume treatise on the Law of Contracts which earned him an LLD from the University of London and high acceptance by distinguished scholars and scholarly journals, as a comparative study of the Roman-Dutch, English and Customary Law relating to contract.

Justice Brennan then speaks of Professor Weeramantry’s Monash years (1972-1990) by saying;

"The Monash years gave Professor Weeramantry opportunities to develop his vision of the law as a normative influence in society not by philosophical reflection alone but by observing, sensitively and insightfully, social standards and social harmony, an alienation of youth, religious apathy and an increasing profile of terrorism at a time when law, which should be "a prime instrument" to reverse these trends, was in crisis.

"Professor Weeramantry was also able to meet and build a close dialogue with eminent personalities like Lord Denning, Professor Julius Stone and the Dalai Lama and other distinguished judges and lawyers from different countries. In 1975 he wrote The Law in Crisis: Bridges of Understanding. It inspired the establishing of the Annual Law Week, first in Victoria and later throughout Australia. It has now been held continuously for thirty years".

Justice Brennan adds :-"Professor Weeramantry’s international standing as a lawyer and sociologist of the law led to a steady flow of invitations to contribute to international conferences and other fora. Governments were able to engage his scholarship and wisdom in the solution of several international problems. This memoir recalls these experiences, not simply as a personal chronicle but as occasions when new insights were gained into law, the values underlying the law and the practical operation of law. What is truly remarkable is Professor Weeramantry’s avidity for these insights, the acuity of his observations, their scholarly and humane evaluation and the practicality of the lessons to be derived. The chapters of this memoir are the journal of a vigorous mind addressing issues of fundamental importance to humankind".

In his Forward Justice Brennan also stresses the following events. Firstly, Professor Weeramantry’s outstanding presentation at the 1976 Conference in the United States of the World Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy. The Conference which was part of the celebrations of the bicentenary of American Independence was attended by some of the world’s foremost legal philosophers and its theme was Equality and Freedom. Professor Weeramantry’s presentation which covered the Third World’s rich traditions and philosophy of equality and freedom broke new ground. He drew attention to Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic thought which the western mindset had not fully appreciated.

Thereafter Professor Weeramantry expanded his presentation into a monograph titled Equality and Freedom: Some Third World Perspectives. One commentary in Asiaweek described the monograph as "a Magna Carta for the Third World". That 1976 Conference was a seminal event in Professor Weeramantry’s career; it identified him as a scholarly authority on the Third World and a jurist of international significance.

Then in 1979, Weeramantry was appointed by invitation to a visiting Professorship at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Sri Lanka and South Africa are two countries out of over 190 countries which share the Roman-Dutch legal system discussed by Professor Weeramantry in his treatise on Law of Contracts. While lecturing in South Africa, Weeramantry soon observed the cruel obscenities of apartheid. He spoke against it in his lectures and on his return to Australia published a book Apartheid: the Closing Phases. The South African government banned the book but it was twice secretly reprinted there.

Thereafter the Foreword speaks of Professor Weeramantry’s belief in the unity of the human family and his abiding interest in promoting human rights. It records that it was Weeramantry who succeeded in establishing the study of human rights at the Monash Law School not as a mere construct of legal philosophy but as a subject relevant to the content of law. The Foreword also records the contribution by Weeramantry to the Japanese University of Tokyo on human rights issues which was followed in 1983 by his next book The Slumbering Sentinels: Law and Human Rights in the Wake of Technology. This text was highlighted by the United Nations then Secretary General (Boutros Ghali) and prompted experts based at the United Nations University in Tokyo to produce extensive studies on technology and human rights. Next in addressing the role of scientists in the development of nuclear weapons, Weeramantry proposed an ethical code for scientists in yet another text entitled Nuclear Weapons and Scientific Responsibility.

The concluding part of Justice Brennan’s Foreword acknowledges Weermantry’s study of the customary laws of countries such as Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Nauru, Fiji and Lesotho in Africa. In 1987, Weeramantry was invited to chair the Commission of Inquiry into the Worked Out Phosphate Lands of Nauru – a task which involved considerations of international affairs and internal law. His expertise in comparative law, human rights and international law made him eminently suited to the task.

Also acknowledged are Weeramantry’s texts on Islamic Jurisprudence and The Lord’s Prayer. The latter was presented by the author to His Holiness Pope John Paul II at an audience at the Vatican. In these texts, Weeramantry reveals the universality of all religions and the unity of all humanity and the powerful consensus of caring for the environment revealing the rich lore of wisdom in Christianity, in Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and the Baha’i Faith.

In concluding the Foreword , former Chief Justice Brennan speaks of Professor Weeramantry’s speaking and writing skills which were equally remarkable. In words which are best quoted verbatim, Justice Brennan says;-

"This volume is an attractive memoir, not only because it charts the formative experiences of a fine judge. Some memoirs are attrac

tive because they are felicitously written; some because the author is a figure of note or notoriety; some because the reader has had a similar experience. But in this memoir, the reader is allowed to share a distinguished author’s participation in the development of concepts that affect the future of humankind. Judge Weeramantry’s faith in the normative influence of law is founded on a thesis that law gives expression to the deepest aspirations shared by people of every race and age. Aspirations that are common to all the world’s great religions and cultures; aspirations that invest each individual with dignity and demand respect for the world in which we live. The memoir not only describes Judge Weeramantry’s part in identifying these aspirations and the role they should play in the formation of the law but also describes social institutions and forces that might be features of civilization in the Third Millennium. Judge Weeramantry was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia for his services to the law but his service is truly to the whole human family".

Both the Monash Vice Chancellor’s tribute and that of Justice Brennan referred to above show how this remarkable man whom some call Judge Weeramantry, others Professor Weeramantry – has stood like a colossus promoting and safeguarding many areas affecting humankind. Indeed, among many other worthy causes, he has contributed significantly to the fight against apartheid; he has been a crusader protecting the environment and safeguarding the rights of future generations; he has always stood for establishing the total illegality of nuclear weapons and avoiding a clash of civilizations; he has advocated integrating global religious values into international law and remedying breaches of international trusteeship and preventing the erosion of human rights by the growing power of technology. This memoir is indeed a remarkable story of how a single lawyer has been able to achieve significant results in relation to a wide variety of global problems threatening the human future.

Lawyers, judges, legal academics and those working towards peace in all countries should obtain a copy of this book. This is the second volume of memoirs of Judge Weeramantry. The first volume, Towards One World – The Sri Lankan Years (532 pages) was published about an year ago. It was sold out and a reprint is expected shortly. This second volume about The Australian Years has 435 pages consisting of 17 chapters and three appendices. Chapters 1 to 4 deal with Judge Weeramantry’s move to Australia and a change from judicial to academic life; how the world opened out to him and his studies of the causes of the Law in Crisis. Then in chapters 5 and 6 the author moves to the American World Congress on Equality and Freedom in 1976 and a closer understanding of the Developing World and its Problems. Chapters seven to 10 deal with glimpses of lifestyles in Papua New Guinea, the South African experience of Apartheid, International Trusteeship in Nauru and the plea for the retention of the Roman – Dutch Law in Lesotho. Moving on, chapters 11 to 14 deal with the Japanese experience in New Approaches to Human Rights; the richness of Comparative Law; Bringing Science and Technology under the Rule of Law; and Nuclear Weapons and Scientific Ethics. The above topics covered in these four chapters constitute compelling reading. They are topics which Professor Weeramantry always promoted and advocated and on which he has published several well-known separate, individual texts.

The last three chapters 15 to 17 of the memoir deal with Religion and the Law, a much needed plea for National Unity in Sri Lanka (the author’s country of birth and current residence) and a nostalgic reference to the Australian years in retrospect. The three appendices’ contain the Monash Law School’s appreciation to this great man, the Address given by him at the conferment on him by Monash of a Doctor of laws and a talk to students passing out at a Monash Law School graduation.

Judge Weeramantry’s third volume of memoirs will deal with his election by the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council as Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague and his now well-known contributions to global jurisprudence as Judge and Vice President of the ICJ from 1991 – 2000 and the years beyond.

Closing, this review has two final remarks. Firstly, an exceptional feature of Professor Weeramantry’s vast achievements is that he accomplished all of them in the role of a lawyer, legal academic or judge. He never left the calling of law as many others have done for say, plum positions in the public sector, diplomatic or even political life – all of which were within his easy reach. Indeed, in his memoir Professor Weeramantry emphasizes the role of the legal profession and the intense obligation that lies upon lawyers to ferret out injustices from the crevices and legal loopholes in which they hide themselves. Lawyers and judges, through their concentration on the letter of the law and the minutiae of the cases they handle, often miss the overarching perspectives of global issues affecting mankind. As a result, many injustices have taken deep roots and flourished under legal systems supposedly dedicated to justice and the rule of law. The law is our prime practical instrument for dealing with them.

The last point is that Professor Weeramantry states that it was the Monash years (1972 to 1990) that truly enabled him to broaden his legal horizons and actively engage in the field of global jurisprudence. However, what foreign readers of his memoirs may not know is that when Weeramantry – a successful barrister – was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench in Sri Lanka in 1967, he was at 42 years, the youngest ever to be so appointed. He would have had an unusual long career on the Supreme Court (23 years with the retiring age being 65) and in a short time would have also been the Chief Justice of the country’s apex Court.

On his retirement from the ICJ in 2000, Judge Weeramantry established the Weeramantry International Centre for Peace Education and Research in Colombo, Sri Lanka and continues his writing and lifelong contributions to mankind.

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