President’s Counsel Sarath Jayamanne retires after a celebrated career | Sunday Observer

President’s Counsel Sarath Jayamanne retires after a celebrated career

17 January, 2021

President’s Counsel Sarath Jayamanne wore many hats. Starting as a State Counsel at the Attorney General’s Department in February 1989 he has come a long way, passing many a milestone in his celebrated career to retire on January 15, 2021.

He was invited to be the Director General (DG) at the Commission to investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption ‘when everything there was in turmoil’. President’s Counsel Jayamanna became the DG immediately after Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe, mired in controversy exited in 2016.

“I have different phases in my life, as DG Bribery, I completely changed the outlook of the Bribery Commission in less than three years. There were many achievements,“ he told the Sunday Observer on the eve of his retirement from the Attorney General’s Department.

During his tenure the State’s anti grant agency made the biggest arrest ever over a bribery offence in the country, with the arrest of then President Maithripala Sirisena’s Chief of Staff, who was ultimately convicted and put behind bars.

He said the journey he has come thus far was highly satisfying.” I have reached the pinnacle of the criminal justice system, no one in my family was connected to the legal profession. I hail from Teldeniya in the Dumbara Valley. My ancestral house and the school I attended, the Dumbara Vidyalaya were submerged by the Victoria reservoir.”

Speaking of his early years, President’s Counsel Jayamanna said from Grade 6-12, he attended St.Anthony’s College Kandy.

“I was the leader of the school debating team, and went on to become the head prefect. My dream was to become a doctor. However, I did not get the scores to enter Medical College. That is when I entered the Sri Jayewardenepura University to follow a science degree, and did biology and physics.”

President’s Counsel Sarath Jayamanne

He said the science degree helped him later in his life as a legal professional in the criminal justice system.

“I joined the Law College after completing my science degree. As a result, I was junior by one or two years to my peers in the Attorney General’s Department. However, I have no regrets. My science knowledge helped me develop the criminal justice system in the country.”

The DNA science in the criminal justice system was first introduced with his intervention in 2001.

During a famous case involving the murder of six members of a family in Hokandara, the investigators were unable to trace the suspects. There was no admissible evidence. A few days later, a blood stained t-shirt belonging to one of the suspects was found.

“At first the investigators suspected the blood may have belonged to one of the deceased. By 2001 the use of DNA was not part of our legal jurisprudence or forensic science,” he said.

“We searched for an expert, when we heard about Dr.Maya Gunasekera, working in the Science Faculty of the Colombo University. When Dr.Gunasekera was contacted by Mr.C.R.deSilva, she refused. She said she has never given evidence in a court of law and she cannot give evidence in Sinhala.”

DNA science

The task of convincing her was entrusted to him. “I taught her to give evidence in Sinhala and in turn I received a lesson on DNA science.”

This interesting history is explained in PC Jayamanna’s book launched in 2016.

Additional Solicitor General Palitha Fernando led the evidence in the Hokandara case in 2001, in which a famous wedamahattaya and his entire family of six were murdered. Jayamanna was part of the team of prosecutors

In 2005, after Justice Sarath Ambepitiya was assassinated, the investigators again used DNA profiling to link the suspects to the murder. When the suspects were arrested several days later, their blood samples were collected for DNA testing. Jayamanna as Deputy Solicitor General lead the evidence in court. It was proven by DNA evidence that a sample of vomit collected near Otters Club where the murder took place, belonged to one of the suspects and it helped solve the murder.

The suspects waited for the arrival of the High Court judge near Sarana Road in a van. It was later learnt that they had been drunk and one of the suspects had alighted from the van and vomited on the pavement.

“I remember the Justice Ambepitiya case, the investigators said, they can’t trace the men....... I had a suspicion the killers may have received a call from Hulftsdorp. Justice Ambeypitiya had been in Hulftsdorp before his visit to Otters Club and had delivered a death sentence on a woman named Theresa, charged with drug trafficking. It was a co-incident that he was assassinated on the same day.”

The killers had been waiting near the Club from 2 pm. The driver of their hired vehicle said, the killers received two calls but he could not hear what they spoke. “I remember asking the investigators to consult the Telecom Engineer. He said telephone numbers of the receiver and the caller as well as the closest telecom towers are recorded in their computers. At the time it was fresh information.”

As suspected, there were two calls originating from Hulftsdorp. But the numbers were not registered. Fortunately, the same number had made a third call. ‘The receiver of this third call revealed that the number belonged to ‘Kudu Naufer’, that is how we traced those numbers to the drug lord who was later convicted.’

“While I was away in the United States, the Royal Park murder case was heard, and Dr. Maya Gunasekera had given evidence on DNA profiles despite being terminally ill.”

When he returned after one year, she had passed away. Dr.Gunasekera established the Gene tech Institute. “There are many DNA experts in the country now but she gave leadership to develop this vital segment of our criminal justice system. I have a humble pride in my role in that process.”

DG Bribery Commission

During his term at the Bribery Commission, also, his science background has come in handy. He was the DG when the Bribery Commission handled the biggest case in its history. The President’s Chief of Staff was involved in a bribery case. “We used voice recognition to trace calls and it was done for the first time in the history of the Commission,” he said.

Three months after passing out from Law College he joined the Attorney General’s Department in February 1989 as a State Counsel. ”I was in the court of appeal initially, looking after bail applications.”

“By January 1990, I was taking up cases in the High Court, where I met giants such as, President’s Counsel Ranjith Abeysuriya. The case was a bribery case against the Accountant of the police department, and heard daily for nearly 90 days.”

The suspect was, however, acquitted, but the defence counsel Ranjith Abeysuriya said, I don’t know who this young gentleman is but I can predict where he will end up, complimenting the manner in which Jayamanna handled the case.

A few years later, at the Presidential Commission to inquire into the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ranjith Abeysuriya had recommended Jayamanna as one of the counsels to assist the Commission, along with him.

“I have been given a lot of opportunities. I tell the young lawyers not to shy away from taking up responsibilities. You must work with passion. Your hard work will definitely be recognised, even after decades. There will always be dividends.”

“I have handled most controversial, landmark cases in the country, one being the ruggerite Tony Martin case. I had only 6-7 years experience at the Bar, I was a young State Counsel. The entire case was based on circumstantial evidence. He was a ruggerite attached to the Havelock Sports Club. His house was opposite the Havelock Sports Club on High Level Road.”

One day, around 2 am, he was brutally murdered. There were no eye witnesses. “I was entrusted with this difficult task. The case was completely based on forensic evidence. He was murdered in 1986 and the trial began in 1996.”

On behalf of the defence, they summoned a Professor in Forensic Medicine. When the police went to the crime scene, around 3 am, the victim was dead. The fingerprint expert had arrived around 9 am. In the deceased’s room was a blood stained fingerprint on the wall, still moist. The forensic professor who was the defence witness said, within one hour a blood stain has to go dry. So they argued the evidence given by the fingerprint expert in support of the prosecution was false, thus the case cannot be proven beyond doubt.

“I had to demolish their argument. He was a forensic professor but I had to prove that he was not an expert on blood. My cross examination of the professor was published verbatim in the newspapers.”

The Ruggerite’s murder was in 1986, and the High Court case was in 1996. It took ten years for a murder case to reach High Court. But the non-summary procedures are now done speedily.

Both suspects were found guilty. Both were ruggerites playing for Havelock Sports Club. The first accused was one Kegal and the second was a Chinese. Both lived in Sri Lanka, and were two years junior to Tony Martin. Later the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court also upheld the guilty verdict.

“Another famous case was the Embilipitiya student disappearance case. I was a junior officer but I led the bulk of the evidence and cross examined the defence witnesses. “

Kobaigane beauty queen

Kobaigane beauty queen Nilanthi murder case was another landmark case he represented. The beauty queen had a love affair with the OIC of the Police, in 1989. She became pregnant and the OIC one day took her in a van on the pretext of visiting a friend. When she got down at a lonely spot, the OIC shot her at close range and burnt her body.

“We had a witness, a home guard who worked as an assistant to the OIC. He did not make a statement for nearly one and a half years. His evidence whether true or false, was doubtful. The other issue was that he was the guy who took the can of petrol and gave it to the OIC, on the insistence of the OIC. There were doubts on whether he was an accomplice to the crime, if so whether he could be relied upon. Despite many legal issues, I was able to secure a conviction. The OIC was convicted, when it came to appeal. Ranjith Abeysuriya appeared for the Silva led the team for the department and I was a junior officer. Ultimately we were able to sustain the conviction.”

He was famous for his address to the jury. “Once there was this case against a Minister’s wife who was later convicted for murder. The Minister had an extra marital affair with a woman. The wife planned to murder the woman. Two men and the manager of her coir mill assisted her in her evil mission.

Fateful day

It was heard that on the fateful day, she asked for the Minister’s jeep to go to her brother’s house. On the way she got two others to the vehicle, and as planned she got herself dropped at her brother’s house. The others had threatened the driver who was the Minister’s official driver to take the vehicle to the paramour’s house. It was around 7 pm. They parked the vehicle at a distance and the driver went in and told the woman the Minister was in the jeep. She came to the jeep with her maid, both were taken away in the jeep, strangled and their bodies burnt.

The trial was first heard in the Chilaw High Court. The conviction was overturned by the court of appeal due to some reason. The second time the trial was transferred to Colombo, and heard before a jury in 2005. “This case was just before Justice Sarath Ambeypitiya trial. There were seven jurors, six men and one female. Since the case was about an illicit affair, I was worried about the female juror. It was the paramour who got killed and the jurors could sympathise with the accused. I had to make sure justice is served on the victim. In my address to the jury I had to convince them, why a guilty verdict is important. Ultimately the jury convicted the Minister’s wife and the others who were accused.”

He got his Master’s in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the Oxford University under the British government’s Chevening scholarship scheme. He was lucky to be one of the 11 students to be picked up from all over the world.

He is also a Hubert Humphrey Fulbright scholar. Under the scholarship in 2005, he spent a year in US at the University of Minnesota studying Human Rights and leadership skills while being trained at the Minnesota prosecutor’s office.

Jayamanna has been a lecturer at the Sri Lanka Law College for nearly 13 years. And he had lectured at the Law Faculty on Evidence and Appeal procedure. His appointment as the Director General, Commission to Investigation Bribery and Corruption was made by the then President Maithripala Sirisena.

“I believe a good lawyer is always a good scientist and a good artist. Without confining to paper qualifications, you must strive to be creative. In a criminal trial, you try to paint a picture in the mind of the trial judge. His mind is the canvass and you need to be creative, legalistic and logical to paint an everlasting picture,” he concluded.