President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris yesterday (24) won the election of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
President’s Counsels Saliya Peiris and Kuvera de Zoysa contested for the post of President of the Bar Association and Saliya Peiris won the election with 2386 mojority of votes while Kuvera de Zoysa received 2707 votes.
In an interview with MediaLK, PC Saliya Peiris revealed of his policies.
Let’s first talk about entering the legal field and your activities in the past?
After advanced level, I wrote the law entrance exam. There I was able to be the first in Sri Lanka. After that I entered law school. I also graduated with a degree in law from the Open University. Later, I studied for a postgraduate degree in International Business Law at the University of London. That’s how I got into the field.
I was always interested in law and politics. We saw in practice how the law works in criminal cases and constitutional cases. The first thing in my memory is an incident where the Criminal Tribunal convicted the accused. Since then I have had an interest in public litigation. Through that I entered the legal field.
As a lawyer, I have appeared in a different cases. I appeared in court for both the 18th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution. At first, I appeared in criminal cases. I worked as a State Counsel in the Attorney General’s Department for 04 years. During this period, I have appeared in all criminal cases and civil cases.
If we talk about the public cases I appeared in, I worked with the legal team worked on the impeachment case of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake. I also served as the Attorney General in two criminal cases against Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. In addition I served as a member of the Human Rights Commission (2015-2018). I was later assigned to the Office of Missing Persons with the unanimous approval of the Constitutional Council on the recommendation of the President. All parties and oppositions represent the Constitutional Council.
Why did you intend to run for the presidency of the Bar Association?
I believe that an independent, strong Bar Association is needed. The Bar Association should be an institution that goes beyond party politics. But at the same time, the Bar Association must be able to say what is wrong and help to do what is right while dealing with the current government. The association must also work for the rights of its members.
Based on these factors, I thought of contesting for the post of Chairman. I also believe that a person who leads an association should be a person who can take a certain stand. Historically I have always taken a stand.
I have always taken a stand regarding the sovereignty of the judiciary and the rule of law, such as when a group of ministers pelted stones at the Mannar court, at the time of the impeachment. A person who aspires to become a leader must have stable decisions. A person who has no straight stand on any issue cannot be expected to take the lead. Such a leader cannot succeed.
That is why I decided to run for the Presidency of the Bar Association. I am supported by those who hold various views in the Bar Association. Their common idea is that our association should be an independent, strong institution.
If you are elected as the President of the Bar Association, what would be your future plans?
We have already issued our policy statement on 17 issues related to our mission. This is the first time in the history of the association that such a policy statement has been made. Among these 17, the rights of lawyers is also a fact.
Lawyers have to face various problems in police stations, court offices and land registrar’s offices. We are of the opinion that this association should be actively involved in these matters. At the same time, the association must be a strong, decisive one committed to the independence of the judiciary. We have made several proposals for the development of junior lawyers.
We have also talked about the promotion of law profession general. Also, a separate chapter has been devoted to identifying issues related to women lawyers and proposing methods to remove their obstacles. We have also proposed a separate program for lawyers working in the public and business sectors. In this way our team has created a policy statement on 17 points.
Junior lawyers face many problems in the face of the Covid epidemic. Is there a plan for them in this situation?
Junior lawyers were in distress in the Covid issue. We have to work amid this pandemic. Accordingly, we need to co-operate with the judiciary on how to proceed with the judicial work. It will have to contribute to the use of new technology, new rules, etc. In addition to the Covid issue, there are several other proposals for junior lawyers. Meanwhile, it has been proposed to establish a Bar Trust Fund to assist in emergencies.
What shortcomings do you see in the overall legal field?
One of the obstacles to our professional development is the failure of lawyers to update their knowledge after entering the profession. I suggest that we, as an association should intervene, especially in the field of legal education. Also, the curricula of law education institutions should be updated. They have not been updated in years. We have also proposed to improve the English language skills of young lawyers.
What is your view on the Bar Association’s involvement in fundamental issues of the country?
There are issues that we are bound by regarding the constitution of the country. We are committed to protect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary within the constitution of the association. So I think the Bar Association can be a voice on those issues. I am of the view that we, as an association should speak up for issues that arise in our field.
It is a well known fact that people in general have little knowledge of the law. Can you contribute to change this situation?
Promoting legal education is not something we can do alone. But it must be done. C.G. Weeramanthri, a renowned judge who was born in our country, always said that knowledge about the law should be developed. During his stay in Australia, he proposed holding a law week in the state of Victoria.
It was done to bring the law closer to the people. I think people should be aware of the law and include law in the school curriculum. Because in order to obey the law, one must be aware of the law. It should be done by the government. The Bar Association is also ready to support it.
These days there are criticisms on social media that you are associated with NGOs. What is the truth behind these allegations ?
During my career, I have never been manipulated by NGOs. The Office of the Missing Persons is not an NGO. It is an independent commission. Its members are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.
It is done so in accordance with the recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission appointed when the current Prime Minister was the President. All reports of this Commission were submitted to the President and the Government of Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is completely untrue that this office was detrimental to the country. It is because of the election of the Bar Association that these false facts have come to light.