(Translated by Akitha Wijayasinghe)
The decision taken by the minister in charge of police, Sarath Weerasekara, to expose suspects through the media should be changed immediately as it is a disgraceful act which is detrimental to both the plaintiff and the defendant, Senior Counsel U.R. De Silva said.
A violation of the Constitution
Speaking at a media briefing held at the Hulftsdorp court complex , he said that this violates a number of laws including the Constitution, the Judicial Organizations Act, the Civil and Political Rights Act.
He said, even after arresting a person in connection with an incident and proving charges against him beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, the person concerned has two rights of appeal and if he is found guilty in both cases, then there is no obstruction to act as the minister says.
Method of arrest is also problematic
The media briefing was called by the Colombo High Court Bar Association and the Chairman of the association, Attorney-at-Law Ranjith Liyanage who said that there were instances where the police had gone with the media to arrest the suspects and that it was a serious offense to question the suspects in front of the media.
The chairman pointed out that disclosing the identities of the suspects in any means is problematic and that it is more of a disadvantage than a benefit to the complainant, adding that it would have a detrimental effect on the identification parades.
‘Court proceedings will be made public’
‘After identifying all those who commit acts of violence such as child abuse, rape, robbery and assault in the middle of the street, we will show their photographs to the media and release their details to the media, while they are on trial,’ Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera had stated this at a media briefing held on the 12th.
He continued to say, ‘I think that if someone does such a thing in the future, there will be fear, suspicion and shame in them as everyone is going to know their details and identity through the media. That is our goal. You can call anyone on 118. We will go there immediately with strong teams and vehicle facilities to deal with such complaints and set up a mechanism to catch those criminals.’
Preconception of innocence
Article 13 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka refers to the presumption of innocence. Accordingly, a suspect charged in a case is presumed innocent until proven guilty before a recognized court. Article 11 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
‘Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
‘No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.’
According to accepted media ethics, it is an offense to reveal the identities of suspects as the minister says. This is stated in the Code of Professional Policies of the Editors’ Guild recognized by the media institutions in this country.
‘The names of victims of sexual offenses should not be disclosed unless otherwise permitted by law, both public and private, when reporting on criminal and criminal cases. The names and facts of any juvenile under the age of 16 who has been charged with a criminal offense and who has not previously been convicted should not be disclosed. The identity of a relative who has been charged or convicted of a crime should not be disclosed without their consent. ‘
What is public interest?
Also, the relevant profession policy clearly states that such matters should not be disclosed unless they are in the public interest. It also applies to the identification of a suspect. A report on ethics by the Verité Research Institute, which conducts research on the media, explains the public interest.
‘Public interest / public engagement is not in the public’s custom. If aggression is justified by the public interest, it should not be mere curiosity, but a serious, legitimate public interest.’
When asked about the minister’s statement at the media briefing on 12th, the Minister said that he did not want to create any problems or anger with the lawyers and hoped to discuss the matter with them.