College committee elections: Law students go beserk over rigging allegations | Sunday Observer

College committee elections: Law students go beserk over rigging allegations

9 September, 2018

The Chief Justice who is the apex authority of the Council of Legal Education has appointed a three-member committee to conduct an inquiry against several Law College students who behaved in an unruly manner last week, even taking the Law College Principal hostage and locking her in a room for nearly 24 hours.

According to highly placed sources the council meeting after considering the reports submitted by the Principal of Law College, Indira Samarasinghe (PC) and several others had appointed the committee.

The incident is unprecedented in the history of the Sri Lanka Law College. The students were protesting against what they called ‘rigged elections’, to appoint the Law College Student’s committee for 2019.

Following the election, a group of students had complained to the Principal that the election was rigged because one student who was not registered at College had cast his vote for both parties. When the Principal was informed she had taken necessary steps to seal the ballot boxes and had appointed Lecturer Shehan Perera, to conduct an inquiry immediately, following the rules and regulations set in for conducting the election, in order to decide whether votes cast should be cancelled or should be recounted after disregarding the one vote cast by the questionable student.

The determination was that since there was only one such incident, they could invalidate that particular vote and recount.

According to Law College sources, observers of respective parties had not objected or prevented the said student casting his vote although they were aware that the student was not registered.

However, upon the recommendation of the lecturer who conducted the inquiry the principal had then advised sealing of the ballot boxes.

“But the Independent group said they want an inquiry. According to constitutions of both unions in a situation like that the Principal should appoint a Lecturer to go in to the matter immediately,” a source said.

The lecturer who conducted the inquiry and the Principal were of the view that there was no need to cancel the elections.

The Independent Group objected vehemently, demanding the cancellation of the poll. Members of the Independent Group later had allegedly kept the Principal under house arrest for over 20 hours, denying her even food and water.

The Principal refrained from commenting, politely stating that this matter involves the future of students which should not be hampered with unnecessarily.

“She had once tried to exit when they blocked her door. She at this point called the President of the Bar Association U. R. de Silva to intervene in the matter,” sources said. According to de Silva he was asked to come in and mitigate the situation as the Vice Patron of the Law Students’ Sinhala Union.

“The Sinhala Students’ Union constitution categorically states that the Bar Association President is the Vice Patron of the union. On that basis the President of the BASL has the final and conclusive power to make a decision with regard to a dispute arising from the conduct of the election. It was on this basis that I was asked to come,” de Silva told the Sunday Observer.

After considering submissions the Chief Justice had advised the ballots to be counted and instructed the Principal to issue the results. The matter regarding the elections concluded at this juncture.

When Sunday Observer attempted to contact the student unions and representatives of the parties they refrained from commenting stating that they did not want further media attention on the matter.

However, the fact that a collective of students acting according to their whims and fancies, who were of the opinion that they could keep the head of the college under house arrest until their demands were met certainly needs to be considered, looked into and dealt with.

Condemning the actions of the students the President of the Bar Association said that it is necessary that disciplinary action is taken against them.

“Until this particular incident elections have been conducted in a peaceful manner. Students have always conducted themselves in a respectful manner and had at all times adhered to the final decision as law abiding people. However, unfortunately this was quite different, they were motivated by an invisible hand. They went outside the purview of law students’ behaviour. This action is unpardonable and sets a very bad precedent for this profession. We should ensure that such things should never occur again and not provide any environment for such occurrences,” de Silva told the Sunday Observer.

Prominent legal figure and Criminal lawyer Kalinga Indatissa PC stated that if the Principal was kept under house arrest it should not be condoned at any level. Former President of the Bar Association Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC speaking to the Sunday Observer stated that such conduct by some of the students is totally unbecoming.

“People being trained to be professionals should act professionally one cannot take to, I wouldn’t say the law of the jungle as the law of the jungle is better that the law outside, and there should be a sense of responsibility.

Differences and disputes may arise but this is what is leading to the breakdown of civil society and this lawlessness and behavior is illegal. This virtually is abduction or threat of criminal force or act. It’s totally unbecoming of a person who is aspiring to be a professional, most of all a lawyer who pledges to uphold the rule of law and democracy”.

He reiterated that serious note should be taken of the incident.