Challenging the rule of law | Sunday Observer

Challenging the rule of law

4 April, 2021

The rule of law is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the authority and influence of law in society, especially when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behaviour, whereby all members of a society are equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes’ while Wikipedia describes that the rule of law implies that every person in a country is subject to the law, including lawmakers, law enforcement officers, and the judiciary. It further describes that the rule of law is more apt to decay if a government has insufficient corrective mechanisms for restoring it.

Law and Democracy

In chapter nine of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Presidential election manifesto, a pledge was made that the government shall always be dedicated to protecting the rule of law and shall not allow anyone to ‘challenge’ it.

The rule of law does not have a precise definition and the meaning can be varying between different nations and legal traditions. Dr. Peter Joyce of the University of Glyndwr in Wales who has widely published in the areas of politics and law explained that the rule of law is a fundamental constitutional principle in liberal democracies. It asserts that the supremacy of the law is an instrument that governs both the actions of the individual citizens and the controls of the State towards them.

Law same for all

The rule of law implies that citizens can only be punished by the State using specific procedures when they disobey or disregard the law and that all citizens should be treated in the same way when they commit offenses. Therefore, the law provides a powerful defence to the public against any unjustifiable actions committed by the State and its officials.

The attention of the entire citizenry was directed towards two separate incidents recently where two politicians challenged and ridiculed the entire legal system of the country. The first was related to contempt of court offence committed by a Parliamentarian. In a clear case of conduct tending to obstruct and interfere with the administration of justice, that politician accused the country’s judicial system and publicly declared that almost the entire legal system, including judges are corrupt.

No court of law in the world will disregards ‘contempt’ under any circumstance. Although the punishments can vary from fines to jail sentences depending on the infraction, it is a cinch that the offender is punished appropriately. Despite open warnings by the defending lawyers, this politician explicitly expressed his views attempting to make a mockery of the country’s judicial system.

He was later accused of, with evidence from his own voice recordings, making various attempts to influence the justice system by speaking with judges about verdicts of ongoing lawsuits. In a case of shameful abuse of political power the infamous voice recordings came to light, damaging him and his political party as well. The politician was appropriately sentenced by the Supreme Court after a lengthy trial.

The irony is that he is relentlessly making appeals from the same system he mocked to obtain a pardon or to reduce his sentence although he has lost the opportunity as a decision made by the Supreme Court cannot be reversed.

The only possibility is to obtain the Presidential pardon which is most unlikely. According to the law, most likely he will loose his civil rights for seven years, likely ending his ambitious political career.

Controversial statements

The second incident was a challenge from a leader of a small political party who is known and infamous for the habitual practice of uttering controversial statements, affecting to the communal harmony. The entire country despises this politician irrespective of race or religion.

This person who does not have any real vote base or followers was made a Governor by the former President, perhaps the most inefficient decisions in the history of the country and for reasons unknown. He recently challenged the Government by publicly declaring that he will obey only the laws of his religion and not the stipulated law of the country.

This bankrupt politician, who was named by the PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks for allegedly aiding the perpetrators has for the past few years attempted to create animosity between communities for his own political gains. He not only tried to spread religious radicalism but also kept challenging the authority of the State. According to the Minister of Public Security, who himself was challenged by the said politician, stated that they do not want to make him a Martyr by arresting him.

This time he went beyond all limits, testing the patience of the authorities. The government itself has earned public wrath for ignoring his continuous destructive comments on many sensitive issues.

The Police took him to custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), one of the most powerful laws in the country where the Police is provided with broad powers. The Attorney General declared that the said politician has committed offences under the Penal Code, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act (ICCPR), in addition to PTA.

Extraordinary Gazette

The government last week issued an Extraordinary Gazette on a new regulation under the PTA for de-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology. As per the notification, the purpose is to rehabilitate those who are arrested for extremist activities. Although seemingly positive, the new regulations are not widely discussed as yet in the public domain.

The alleged corruption of the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies are frequently experienced by the general public. With this era of technology, news travels fast, particularly bad news.

Although a system is in place for ordinary people to make complaints against errant officials, the common opinion is that those systems are either not strong enough to penalise or the process takes a long period wasting time, money, and energy of the complainant.

During the past few decades, politicians have developed a tendency towards disregarding the law of the country. Violations of the law and shameless despicable acts of politicians that often challenge the rule of law are reported almost every day by both social and conventional media. Most often regional politicians are allegedly responsible for these illegal wrong doings in incidents such as involvement in illegal tree felling, protecting illicit liquor breweries, interfering in Police duties and many other nefarious activities.

Most of the time, those who are engrossed in undesirable illegal activities are habitually from the ruling party. Regrettably, as a common occurrence, the leaders of the political parties, both ruling and opposing, act deaf and dumb when the incidents are reported.

Customarily, the actions from the party leadership rarely take place. The general public expected equal legal actions for everyone from the President, as a non-political statesman, when he was elected to the supreme position. Therefore, special and specific attention of the President is sought by the citizenry, by and large.

Obeying the law of the land is a moral obligation of society. Abiding by the law implies the greatest good for the greatest number of people in that society.

As the Presidential manifesto emphasises, only one set of laws should apply to the entire country, and the ruler as well as all citizens should abide by the rule of law.

Also, the manifesto states that the government shall always be dedicated to protecting the rule of law and shall not allow anyone to challenge it. In a sharply divided political society such as in Sri Lanka, citizens expect the government to exercise its legal power to uphold the rule of law.