BASL Presidential hopefuls outline their agendas | Sunday Observer

BASL Presidential hopefuls outline their agendas

17 February, 2019

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) will have its election to elect a new President. The two contenders are President’s Counsel Kalinga Indatissa and Senior Counsel Mahinda Lokuge. The Sunday Observer sought their plans and views on the Association

“Improve continuous education”

Q. What made you or why did you decide to contest the presidency?

A. I have been in practice for 33 years. I have been in the private bar and at the Attorney General’s department, and in the unofficial Bar since 1991. I have travelled the length and breadth of the country. I have identified the problems of the practitioners. There are issues in most areas. I would categorise the profession into three.

There are lawyers in the public sector, including the Attorney General’s Department. There are lawyers in private practice. The issues that one would see are different based on the segment that one would belong to. The Bar Association has a 21,000 membership. About 15,790 have been registered as voters. But if you analyse the past three or four elections, the number of people who turn up to vote at an election does not exceed 4,500.

I have analysed the reasons and I am confident that I can provide answers and resolve the issues faced by all these segments. I was motivated and encouraged by senior and junior practitioners. I’m honoured to have the support of senior lawyers and junior members.

Q. What are the main issues that you have prioritised to attend to?

A. I am a person who believes that by upgrading education and continuous legal education for the three segments that I have introduced before, you can provide more an equal playing field than what it is now for the betterment of the profession of the members. My focus will be on the development of library facilities, computerisation of all branches. I will also have continuing legal education in respect of every bar which is going to be something similar to the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) in other countries where it is mandatory for all members to participate in CPD seminars that will upgrade their knowledge of the legal services that they provide to the clientele.

I am also mindful of the welfare facilities of the members where a comprehensive medical cover for the members coupled with professional negligence cover will be introduced. There are other burning issues with the police and with the system which I hope to address along with the learned members of the judiciary and other stakeholders, such as the AG’s Department. I am concerned about the traditions of the profession and the ethical standards. I will appoint three permanent committees to look into the law reforms where they will go through all laws and make recommendations and amendments as some laws are very archaic.

We wait for Parliament to pass laws. The Bar Association will be the body to make recommendations to the government. I am concerned about the students passing out in the profession. It is time that the Bar Association and the Council of Legal Education along with the other stakeholders should take control over it. I am not there to deprive any body of further education, but there should be a regulation.

Q. What is your take on case delays and how do you propose to counter it?

A. Judicial administration is an extremely important aspect of our judicial system. There is some degree of administration. But training judicial officers alone is not going to be sufficient. It is a matter for the Bar to get together. Writ application is something where you are challenging the discretion of a public officer.

Secondly, we must have a time frame for government analyst reports.

We must also introduce technology based evidence. Sometimes, cases get postponed because somebody is not available. Technology based evidence has to come. It will come in another 15 years so why not make it now.

Q. Who will be your running mate?

A. I have spoken to several contenders who will understand my way of working and thinking and who can work with me to make a better provision, but I think it’s a bit too early for me to announce it.

Q. What are your thoughts about the Bar Association being politicised?

A. The Bar Association was started in the 1970s. The sole purpose was that the then Minister, the Secretary to Justice Ministry at that time attempted to make certain inroads into the council of lawyers. Dr. H W Jayewardene QC, was the president. He never brought politics into the system. Subsequently, we had persons, such as H L de Silva who was Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s counsel. He too never brought politics into the system. 

“Create prestigious independent body”

Q. What made you or why did you decide to contest the Presidency?

A. The reason is that it is imperative that we bring back our Bar Association as a prestigious and independent body that it was before. Secondly, there are many issues faced by the practitioners in the profession. I have a blueprint as to how best to find solutions to these issues. The Bar Association should be operated independently. This will help uphold the rule of law and maintain the independence of the judiciary.

Q. What are the main issues that you have prioritised?

A. The pressing need at the time is to uphold independence of the body. This will put an end to the political differences among the members. This is not only beneficial to the professionals, but its impact will also trickle down to litigants and the public. There have been more than enough instances where the Bar Association has been politicised.

I will keenly pursue activities aimed at enhancing adherence to professional ethics and discipline. The Professional Purposes Committee of the Bar Council would be strengthened and encouraged to take measures to maintain discipline and compliance with professional ethics, so that, our professional standards of conduct would not attract criticism, and the public at large will gain confidence in the legal profession.

I will provide leadership to activities aimed at developing professionalism and continuous professional development of Attorneys-at-Law.

I will strive hard to strengthen professional career opportunities, prospects and employment conditions of lawyers. I will pay special attention to allegations of harassment faced by vulnerable segments of our membership and take action to prevent their occurrence.

I will safeguard the profession from the unprecedented intrusion by foreign lawyers and legal firms in the guise of investments, consultants or otherwise. I will set subsidised course fees for lawyers with less than three years at the Bar for participation in courses conducted by the BASL.

I will promote activities for enhancing the professional reputation of Attorneys-at-Law and to maintain close association with the Ministry of Justice, and ensure that court complexes both within and outside Colombo are maintained well and are provided with services.

Q. What is your take on case delays and how do you propose to counter it?

A. Before addressing this issue, the basic upgrades in the systems should be done. This can accelerate cases being heard.

Courts must be updated with technological assistance. Merely bringing laws is not sufficient. We must see if the basics have been fulfilled to enable courts to put the laws into practice.

Q. Who is your running mate?

A. I have not decided yet but I have spoken to several people whom I believe will act independently and who are in the same line of thinking as I am. I would want to study them till the end as you never know where any influence can come in.

Because if I make even the slightest mistake and appoint someone who’s politically not independent as my Vice President, then I will be acting in an unfair manner by the members of the BASL.

Q. What are your thoughts about the Bar Association being politicised?

A. The Bar Association is mainly responsible for the wellbeing and interests of its members. Once I am appointed to a position, I cannot express my personal opinion. As long as I hold office I am governed by the Constitution of the Bar Association.

I have been holding different positions in the BASL for the past 28 years and held office as Secretary for two years, and I have been serving as an Ex-Co member.

I am independent. During my 30-year-career, I have not got involved in politics.