Witnesses give evidence at retrial against Priyanka Fernando in UK court | Sunday Observer

Witnesses give evidence at retrial against Priyanka Fernando in UK court

20 October, 2019

Prosecution witnesses have given evidence at the re-trial against former Sri Lanka’s Defence Attache Brigadier Priyanka Fernando who is charged with making offensive gestures at a group of Tamil protestors in London, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on Saturday.

The case which had its original conviction expunged due to procedural mistakes and was again heard on Friday, was adjourned till November 19. The case was initiated by a group of protestors who said they were intimidated by repeated throat slitting gestures by the Brigadier. The group was protesting in front of the Sri Lanka’s High Commission in London, and it coincided with independence day celebrations. On January 21, 2019 Brigadier Fernando was convicted under Sections 4 and 5 of the Public Order Act of the UK in his absence, and an arrest warrant without bail was issued.

After the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry made representations to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office UK, in February, the arrest warrant was withdrawn and a retrial was fixed to consider if Brigadier Fernando enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

On March 15, 2019 the court determined “the defendant was convicted without representation”, and cited “a series of mistakes or errors that has led to procedural unfairness”.

It called for a retrial under Section 142 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980.

The Chief Magistrate later rejected the defence argument and upheld the earlier conviction. She held that, “It was not part of Brigadier Fernando’s job description to make the alleged cut-throat gestures on three occasions. It could not be any part of the mission’s function and therefore, the Minister Counsellor’s behaviour is not given immunity by Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention.”

However, the conviction was expunged after the defence counsel pointed out procedural mistakes and argued the case was invalid. The case will be next heard on November 19.

The Foreign Ministry sources said the Government continues to maintain that Brigadier Fernando as a diplomat who was attached to the Sri Lanka High Commission in London is entitled to diplomatic immunity as per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.

“The Government of the UK has been requested to honour this obligation, which is reciprocal.”