Hordes at courts

Island Editorial

All it takes to destroy a democracy is a chronic erosion of public confidence in vital state institutions. Worryingly, not even the self-proclaimed messiahs on a mission to salvage the Sri Lankan democracy have cared to remove the canker of public distrust, which is eating into the vitals of the three branches of government mercilessly. The less said about the legislature and the executive, the better. They are beyond redemption. Only the judiciary has shown some resilience in the face of attacks on its dignity and credibility and everything possible needs to be done to protect it lest rising public resentment should pave the way for anarchy.

The law does not permit even the tooting of horns near courts in session. There have been instances where people were thrown behind bars for letting out ostentatious yawns while court proceedings were on. But, strangely, this law does not seem to apply to everybody equally.

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Members of the black-coated fraternity go berserk with impunity in court houses, where ordinary people dare not even make small talk in hushed tones. Last year, lawyers clashed with police while the Meethotamulla garbage dump case was being heard, causing the court concerned to adjourn. All of them should have been thrown behind bars en masse for causing an affront to the dignity of court. But, sadly, nothing of the sort happened. Some lawyers heaped abuse on the High Court judges who found Sarath Fonseka guilty in the White Flag case in 2011 and smashed up court furniture in protest. They got away with that serious offence which would have caused an ordinary person to be sentenced to prison for years. A supporter of Joint Opposition firebrand Wimal Weerawansa has been jailed for shouting in a court. The JRJ government had the houses of Supreme Court judges who refused to toe its line stoned. Some of the ministers who defended the attack at that time are currently in power, championing judicial independence. (Telephones of independent judges are tapped by the ‘Gestapo’.)

As if growing indiscipline among lawyers and sinister attempts by politicians to reduce judges to mere puppets on strings were not enough, the kith and kin of suspects have begun to invade court premises in protest. The despicable practice of mobs surrounding police stations when lawbreakers are arrested has apparently come to be taken for granted. Police are, therefore, wary of taking some suspects into custody. Emboldened by their success, the backers of lawbreakers are apparently employing the same modus operandi in a bid to intimidate the judiciary as well.

Last Thursday, when 20 suspects, arrested in connection with two small firearms and ammunition found in the Mt. Lavinia court premises, were remanded, all hell broke loose. Their family members and relatives staged a protest near the court, claiming that they were innocent and blaming police for not taking action against a powerful underworld figure. Most of the protesters were women. Emotions easily get the better of mothers, sisters and wives and it is only natural that they do everything in their power to protect their loved ones. If they believe police are at fault their complaints must be looked into and justice done. But, on no grounds, must noisy protests near courts be countenanced. Police who unflinching descend on Opposition politicians and students engaged in protests were seen persuading instead of ordering the protesters to disperse on Thursday!

The problem of mobs invading court premises would not have arisen if stern action had been taken against those who started the bad practice of smashing coconuts at Hulftsdorp purportedly to seek justice through divine intervention. There have also been silent protests on either side of roads leading to courts in recent times. Innocent as such actions may seem they are, in fact, aimed at bringing pressure to bear on the judiciary.

It is imperative that action be taken to prevent protests in the vicinity of courts in all parts of the country. Anyone who does not agree with a judicial decision can make use of the appellate procedure.