Understanding pulse of people, path to be a professional – Prosecutor Sarath Jayamanne | Sunday Observer

Understanding pulse of people, path to be a professional – Prosecutor Sarath Jayamanne

17 January, 2021

Renowned for his expertise in leading forensic and circumstantial evidence and also as a great advocate in leading address to the Jury, prosecutor Sarath Jayamanne PC has served in the Attorney General’s Department for 32 years.

He was also a lecturer in Evidence and Criminal Procedure at Sri Lanka Law College, Faculty of Law University of Colombo, and the Open University of Sri Lanka. Having spearheaded many a landmark case, such as the Hokandara Murder case, Katuneriya Double Murder case, Tony Martin case, Kobeigane Beauty Queen case, Murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya case and Mirusivil Massacre case, Jayamanne has done a yeoman service for the country as a counsel under the Attorney General’s Department. He left the public service recently. He has handled numerous landmark cases and is an all-rounder with academic and professional competence. A great leader, he is an influential opinion-maker on legal issues. During his three-year tenure as the Director General of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), he initiated numerous measures to take CIABOC to a higher level and was also the focal point in Sri Lanka for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Q: What are the major cases you have handled?

A: I have been privileged to have been given the opportunity to prosecute many cases which ended up being landmark cases in Sri Lankan jurisprudence. This was not because of any influence I had over how cases were assigned, but because I have cultivated in myself the habit of never turning down an opportunity, no matter how challenging it may seem. The list comprises: the Tony Martin murder case; Kobeigane murder case; Katuneriya double murder case where the wife of a former Minister and others were connected; the Mirusuvil Massacre case; the case concerning the disappearance of students from Embilipitiya; the Hokandara Trial-at-Bar; the Trial-at-Bar regarding the murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya; the Magistrate’s Court prosecution in the murder of Nalanda Ellawala

Q: Looking back at your career as a prosecutor, what would you say is the secret of your success?

A: When I am before the court, my main focus is to recreate the crime in the mind of the Trial Judge. I always try to be simple, and strive to be as clear as possible. I look for the logical sequence behind any course of events. When it comes to examining or cross examining witnesses in a trial, I make an effort to understand the lay witnesses’ background and to appreciate the importance of the expert forensic evidence. I am able to do the latter because of my background in science and maths. I try to look at the case from the point of view of the Defence, and the arguments they may raise. These are skills and habits that I inculcated in myself from the beginning of my career.

Q: You mentioned that you have a background in science: could you elaborate on this?

A: I have acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Sciences: Maths, Biology and Physics. This background has come to my aid in many cases, especially in the Hokandara Murder case, in which I was instrumental in introducing DNA evidence to the country for the first time. Another case in which DNA evidence was used was in the Trial-at Bar in the murder of High Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya where I led evidence using the vomit of one of the suspects.

It was also during this prosecution that we introduced telephone evidence to the country. I have also done several cases based on fingerprint evidence, as well as on the examination of questioned documents. In the Tony Martin murder case, I relied on tool evidence as well as scientific evidence. While I was the Director General of CIABOC, we introduced voice-identification to the country through recording of a voice in electronic media.

Q: Your career shows that you have excelled in the academic world too, as you were the recipient of two prestigious scholarships. Could you tell us about these scholarships and how they affected your career?

A: The Chevening scholarship was the first scholarship I was awarded. It enabled me to obtain my Master’s Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Oxford. This helped me shape my thinking in the academic world and came to my aid when I became a lecturer at Sri Lanka Law College, as well as at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo. I was also a lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka. This scholarship and degree helped me shape my perspective with regard to criminal justice issues.

The second scholarship was the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, which is a Fulbright Commission Exchange Program. This was a leadership program, which gave us not only academic but also professional experience, nurturing and training us as leaders.

Q: You are a prosecutor, academic, policy-maker, expert in jury address, leader, panellist in various fora and even announcer. How did you venture into these diverse areas?

A: Philosophers and scientists say that people hardly use their entire brain, i.e. they don’t engage their right as well as their left hemispheres. The left hemisphere controls academic input, whereas the right hemisphere controls artistic ability and creativity; to be a genius, you must couple both and make use of the entire brain. What is most important is to think differently and try to use your creativity. There is a connection between science, arts and law. I try to see this connection and combine all three so that my listener will understand the message I am conveying.

Q: You wrote a book titled Yali Mavena Aparadayak (Crime Recreated), bringing arts, science and law together. What was the thought process behind the book?

A: Conducting investigations is a crucial limb of the criminal justice process. I found that our police officers needed to be trained in basic principles. Lawyers too should understand the rationale in a criminal case. A counsel tries to recreate the crime in the mind of the Trial Judge. This is similar to painting a picture on a canvas. The law, science and art must, therefore, be combined beautifully. This is what I have strived to do.

Q: Could you tell us more about your role as the Director General (DG) of CIABOC?

A: Upon being appointed as the DG of CIABOC in 2016, I realised that reformations had to be made, as nothing had been changed since its inception in 1994. One my of primary functions was to get the Governmental approval to recruit graduates and experts in various fields as Investigating Officers. Some 200 Investigating Officers were selected from 10,000 applicants through a competitive selection process.

Another observation from the study of international jurisdictions was that Sri Lanka’s approach to punishment as the only method of eradicating bribery and corruption is one-dimensional. Countries which have been successful in minimising bribery and corruption place great importance on the prevention of bribery and corruption. They have Integrity Officers in all their Government departments, whose role is to see how the opportunities to be involved in bribery and corruption are eradicated.

Led by this example, we created a cadre for 50 Prevention Officers at CIABOC.

Q: CIABOC made the headlines in March 2019, when it launched the National Action Plan for Combatting Bribery and Corruption (NAP). This was during your tenure as the DG; could you tell us what this NAP is, and how it came about?

A: Countries have a vision and a plan for minimising bribery and corruption. This requires all the sectors in the Government to unite and have short term, medium term and long term plans. Sri Lanka became a party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2004, but was found fault with by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which is the chief governing body regarding the implementation of the UNCAC, for not having a concrete National Action Plan.

We obtained Cabinet Approval, and went across the country and had over 40 consultations with public officials, the private sector and with lay persons. We came up with a five-year National Action Plan, and this is what was launched in March 2019.

Q: The UNODC launched a document called the Colombo Commentary on the Role of Anti-Corruption Commissions. Could you tell us what role CIABOC played in this?

A: Articles 6 and 36 of the UNCAC deal with the independence and efficiency of anti-corruption commissions the world over. The Jakarta Declaration was made in 2012 with regards to these Articles and these qualities of anti-corruption commissions. The UNODC wanted to prepare a Commentary on the Jakarta Declaration, which would be a practical guideline. Having understood and appreciated the progress CIABOC had made, the UNODC chose Sri Lanka as the venue for the deliberations in creating such a Commentary, and brought over 30 international experts to the country in 2018 to have an expert group meeting on the Jakarta Declaration; CIABOC was the live wire behind the meeting. Subsequent to these deliberations, the Commentary was launched a few months back, and was called the Colombo Commentary, with due recognition being given to the country and CIABOC.

Q: You have also worked towards enacting a new law to govern Asset Declaration in the country. Could you tell us about why this is required?

A: Asset Declaration is one of the methods of monitoring or placing a check on public servants, including people’s representatives. An Asset Declaration Law (ADL) required every senior-level public servant to declare assets and liabilities. The country has an ADL introduced in 1988, but this has serious flaws and has not been amended. Therefore, we have developed and proposed a new ADL, with a significant development being the introduction of Online Asset Declaration.

Another area addressed by the new ADL is verification: once the asset declaration is submitted, the correctness needs to be verified. Tt present, this takes time as we expect banks and other agencies, such as customs and Department of Motor Vehicles to send their material manually.

The proposed ADL will see this material sent in electronically. It will also establish a central agency under CIABOC to collect the declarations. At present, declarants submit their declarations to their head of departments. Under the new system, the central agency will collect the declarations. Whenever there is anything suspicious, investigations will commence, preceded by attempts to verify the information by connecting online to various government sector agencies.

Another suggestion is that a declaration should be made upon the public servant leaving the public service, in addition to the annual declaration. The punishment for non-declaration as at now is only a fine of Rs. 1000 and/or 1 year of rigorous imprisonment, which has been viewed with contempt, is revamped in the proposed law. The suggestion is that if the declarant fails to make his declaration by June 30, prosecution will not be initiated right away. Instead, he will be given one more moth to pay, as well as made to pay a surcharge of one month’s salary. If he fails to make the declaration for two months, he will be charged a surcharge amounting to 6 months’ salary. Prosecution will only be initiated if the public servant still fails to make a declaration beyond this time.

The proposed ADL is currently with the Legal Draftsman, and will need to be sent to the Cabinet for amendments and approval.

Q: Your journey from a village in Teldeniya in Dumbara Valley, to becoming a professional, has not been easy. What lessons from this experience could you impart to the younger generation?

My hometown is Teldeniya close to the Hulu Ganga which is a branch of the Mahaweli River. Due to the Victoria Dam Project, we had to make a sacrifice for our country, and watch as our home and belongings were all submerged underwater. Even the school I attended up to grade 5, Dumbara Vidyalaya, is no more. I attended St. Anthony’s from grade 6 to 12, and was the Head Prefect, Debating Leader, as well as the recipient of many awards for elocution.

My childhood dream was to become a doctor, but I did not obtain sufficient marks to enter the Medical Faculty. However, I had sufficient marks to enter the Science Faculty, and this is what I did. This proved to be an asset to me as a lawyer.

My message to the readers is not to look at closed doors, but to open a window and to try to go into that arena. There are so many things you can do with your life: you just need to be passionate and do an in-depth study of all subjects. You need to realise that merely having academic excellence or a certificate will not take you anywhere; you need to be able to understand the pulse of the people and how they behave and basic principles. This will enable you to be a successful professional.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I have ventured into different areas, thanks to the exposure and experience acquired through my tenure at the Attorney General’s Department. With this background, I can serve the country and criminal justice system better.