Usaaviya Nihandai names judge suspected of sexual abuse : Silencing the ‘Silence in the Courts’ | Sunday Observer

Usaaviya Nihandai names judge suspected of sexual abuse : Silencing the ‘Silence in the Courts’

The launch of Sinhala cinema’s controversial first docu-drama critical of the justice system and its swift temporary ban by a court has sparked public debate over the role of the media and the judiciary system.

The public launch screening of this historic first docu-drama film, made by award-winning film-maker Prasanna Vithanage took place in Colombo on October 4 and stirred the audience with its forthright depiction of a real-life case of alleged sexual harassment by a judicial officer. On October 5 , responding to a plaint by the former judicial officer named in the film , the Colombo District Court issued an injunction suspending screening of the film until the 19 when the case is to be taken up.

Without intending to interfere with the court proceedings, the Sunday Observer looked into the events in this human drama that unfolded over the last two decades.

The plot of Usaaviya Nihandai (‘Silence of the Courts’) is a true story about a magistrate suspected of sexually abusing a woman in return for releasing her husband from remand custody. Well known journalist and one-time political activist Victor Ivan published a series of articles in his newspaper, Ravaya, which dealt with claims about the said Magistrate’s questionable appointment to the judicial service and subsequent allegations of misconduct. The Sinhala version of Victor Ivan’s book Nonimi Aragalaya published by Ravaya Publications, which discusses this case,has been in circulation unchallenged and undisputed since 2002. The English translation “An Unfinished Struggle” was first published in 2003 and was also unchallenged.

However, a television program reporting the allegations against the former magistrate and the related legal proceedings was broadcast in 1999 by Swarnavahini TV. Preliminary investigations into these allegations by a committee set up by the Judicial Services Commission commenced in December 1998. The judge under scrutiny began legal proceedings against the Swarnavahini channel and the program on 8 February, 1999, with an affidavit stating that the content of the program was defamatory.

Last week, the former judge obtained the temporary ban injunction against the film claiming that it is influencing the pending case against the Swarnavahini channel.

Witnesses

Ravaya founding Editor Ivan told the Sunday Observer that, following a series of articles published in Ravaya on sexual abuses and the misleading of the judiciary administration by a judge, the magistrate in question filed a complaint with the CID against Ivan. “I made my statement to the CID supported by documents and provided information of the victimised women as well, who were later questioned by the CID.”

There were two women who made allegations. One woman claimed she was sexually abused on the promise of the release of her husband on bail and, another woman in custody, claimed that she was sexually abused as well.

However, the report compiled by the CID did not go beyond the then Attorney General.

Meanwhile, responding to the publicity over the alleged conduct of a judge, the then Chairman of the Bar Association, Romesh de Silva, convened a group of previous chairmen of the BASL to discuss the matter. This group of eminent lawyers recommended that the judge mentioned by Ivan in his articles should be subjected to an inquiry initiated by the Chief Justice and the Judicial Services Commission, with a condition that if Ivan failed to prove his allegations, he should be severely reprimanded for contempt of court. “They further recommended that if my allegations were proven, legal actions should be taken against the judge in question and to commence another inquiry by the Attorney General,” Ivan said.

Former Chief Justice G. P. S. de Silva set up a three member committee to lead the inquiry, which consisted of Court of Appeal judges, Justice Hector Yapa, Justice Ashoka de Silva, and Justice T. B. Weerasuriya. The inquiry proceedings began on 10 December, 1998. At the end of the inquiry, the said Magistrate was found guilty on four counts, including two counts of sexually abusing the women and misleading the courts,. The Committee recommended him to be removed from judicial services and charges filed against him for criminal offences.

Prasanna Vithanage conducted his own investigation into the allegations prior to the production of the movie.

Innocent

Despite the three-member committee recommendations, the former judge suspected of these crimes remains clear in the eyes of the law as the recommendation to file charges against the said former judge were never carried out. The current Chairman of the BAR Association Geoffrey Alagaratnam pointed out that unless a person is tried and convicted in a court of law, he remains innocent in the eyes of law, in this case, despite the Committee recommendations.

Right to privacy

Banning of movies from public screening is not a new trend in Sri Lanka. Looking at the film maker’s view point, actress-producer Kaushalya Fernando told the Sunday Observer: “Films are a form of expression and imposing limitations on them curtails our freedom of expression. The struggle and dedication of the participants in the production of a movie are wasted when a movie is not given a chance to be screened, at least within three years of its production.”

“What should be understood is that films are a medium of expression, an art, and artists have a right to express themselves through the different genres offered in their chosen medium of expression. Also, the spectators have a right to know the events discussed in movies whether they are contemporary, past or future, and create a dialogue among themselves,” Fernando explained.

“The public has a right to know,” former chairman of the Bar Association Upul Jayasuriya agreed.

“On the other hand, right to privacy doesn’t extend to cases where people who have allegedly engaged in criminal offences. Cases such as the one discussed in the movie are of public importance. People should be made aware of the miscreants and they should be properly dealt with,” Jayasuriya added.

This case has been taken up by several judicial authorities and each of them have the findings based on their inquiries, including a committee appointed by the Judicial Services Committee, comprised of three judges. He explained that according to their findings, they had recommended legal action against the former magistrate in question under the normal law.

“This is a serious situation and the public has a right to know and a right to talk about it, that’s where freedom of expression comes in,” he said.

People need to be able to have faith in the Justice system, and people in higher positions shouldn’t be spared if they have committed crimes, he added.. The issue in the matter is that the case was never taken up to the next level, as recommended by the Committee of Judges.

Prasanna Vithanage is contesting the banning of the film, the hearing for which is scheduled for 19 October, next week. 

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