Raviraj murder case verdict elicits concern : Jury selection process needs to be addressed - Opposition Leader R.Sampanthan | Sunday Observer

Raviraj murder case verdict elicits concern : Jury selection process needs to be addressed - Opposition Leader R.Sampanthan

Nadaraja Raviraj

The verdict of the murder case of former Parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj produced many ‘firsts’. The Jury consisted, for the first time, senior members of the public service and graduates. It was also the first time in Sri Lanka where a judgment was given after midnight. On 24 December, the court initiated the trial which went on till about 10.45 p.m. after which the jury went into consideration before deciding on the verdict. Fifteen minutes into the twelfth hour High Court Judge Manilal Waidyathilake pronounced the verdict.

According to sources within the Department an appeal is in consideration. It will be finalized after sufficient time is taken to study the high court judge’s summing up the jury deliberations which on that day took closer to one and a half hours.

Three Navy intel officials celebrate after the verdict

On November 10 2006, shots were fired at the vehicle carrying Nadaraja Raviraj and his security officer Police Sergeant Lakshman Lokuwella. They died consequently. In July last year the Attorney General’s Department filed indictments relating to the case against six persons, including three naval intelligence officers.

Sivakanthan Vivekanandan alias Charran, Fedian Resistan, Navy intel. officers Hettiarachchi Mudiyanselagey Prasad Chandana Kumara, Dediwala Gedara Gamini Seneviratne and Kankanamlagey Pradeep Chaminda were indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and under section 296 of the Penal Code.

After court was informed that Sivakanthan Vivekanandan alias Charran and Fedian Resistan were absconding, the inquiry was commenced against the three Navy officers. Preethi Viraj Manamperi a Police Constable who was attached to the Presidential Security Division was charged with murder and later turned into a state witness under conditional pardon.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said, the process in which the jury is allowed to be selected can lead to a loss of confidence among victims. “There is a very serious question with regard to this process.

“There is a feeling that persons have been able to obtain an acquittal because they were tried by a jury which they had selected and could have been regarded as unduly favourable to them. This is a matter that needs to be addressed and involves a very serious question as to whether such processes of justice can lead to confidence among victims,” he said.

“There had been two verdicts recently which have been of concern to us, the Opposition Leader elucidated. One is the verdict of an all Sinhala jury in the Kumarapuram, Muttur, Trincomalee murder case where a number of civilians were massacred allegedly by some sections of the armed forces and they were all acquitted. Following was the trial of the Raviraj murder case which was also heard by a special, but an all Sinhala jury and there too the suspects were acquitted. I don’t want to go into the merits of the case”, he said.

The Attorney General’s Department is currently considering the possibilities of appealing the verdict given at the Raviraj murder trial last 24th acquitting all five suspects.

“We are very concerned about the manner in which the court reached this verdict. You can’t expect a jury consisting of a group of laymen who have been hearing this case for the past one month to be very alert about 12.30 a.m. and grasp all legal issues and concepts that should be taken into consideration, and then arrive at a just and equitable decision at the end of the day. They would have been absolutely fatigued. Hence, what we are most concerned about is the manner in which this verdict was reached,” a highly placed source within the department explained.

In a jury trial, the most important address is the judge’s summing up to the jury which in this case went on for about one and a half hours. In this matter the state and the defence addressed the Jury and uniquely there was representation on behalf of the Raviraj family by Parliamentarian Sumanthiran who addressed the Jury.

Normally, under the law in this country it is the accused party who can opt for a jury, the prosecution does not have that option. Once the accused decides to opt for a jury, at the time of opting they can indicate if they want a Sinhala speaking jury or otherwise. When they opted for a jury they indicated this, probably because the suspects were Sinhala speaking. And there is no provision to include any non-Sinhala speaking jurors.

Many went on to protest on this factor.

Attorney at Law Anuja Premaratne who appeared for the accused

“It was true that there was no corroboration with regard to the identity of the assassin and only Preethi Viraj was available to give evidence, for the simple reason that, no one else was able to identify the assassin, or probably saw the assassination, because Preethi Viraj was the nearest to the assassin. This was the conspiracy where the assassin was expected to get onto the motorbike ridden by Preethi Viraj, parked very close to the scene and Preethi Viraj was expected to transport the assassin back to the so called Navy intelligence unit which was near Gangarama,” the source within the department explained.

“With regard to corroboration, almost every aspect of the witness’ statements had corroboration except with regard to the identity or the involvement of the real killer and maybe to a lesser extent, about the existence of a conspiracy involving the other accused. According to evidence the weapon used was handed over to the so called ‘friendly combatants’.

“The prime conspirators in this case are those in the Karuna faction. If there was corroboration with regard to these two aspects the case would have been stronger, but, on the other hand how can one find corroboration in a case like this which was hatched in secrecy” ,. the source said

Many showed concern on the time taken to consider and arrive at a decision by the jury. “The short time taken to arrive at a decision was alarming. What sort of deliberation can take place within the jury members at such a short time? Were they in a proper state of body and mind?” asked a counsel who wished to remain anonymous.

“The legal concept of a conspiracy, evidence of an accomplice and to what extent the evidence of an accomplice should be corroborated and what is corroboration? How to assess the credibility of a tainted witness because Preethi Viraj had several cases pending against him. So, what is reasonable doubt, so on and so forth, are only a few among many that the jury ought to have considered before arriving at a decision. It is unimaginable that a group of laymen who has been hearing the matter for the whole day to go in and deliberate with a clear state of mind. These are the sentiments expressed by the people

The opposition leader reminding us of the person Raviraj said, he was an individual with a progressive line of thinking and was loved by many, including the Sinhalese. “As we all know, Raviraj was a democratic politician, with very progressive and liberal views. He was very popular among the Sinhala people. We can’t allow this kind of thing to continue if we wish to bring about reconciliation among our people.”

Attorney at Law Anuja Premaratne appeared for the accused while Senior Deputy Solicitor General Rohantha Abeysuriya represented the State and MP Sumanthiran represented the family of his deceased colleague, Raviraj.