• Last Update 2023-06-07 20:59:00

President Ranil Wickremesinghe explains shift from law to politics




President Ranil Wickremesinghe felicitated by the legal community on his completion of 50 years at the Bar explained his shift from law to Politics.

The full text of the address made at the event held on December 3 follows;

“Your Lordship, the Chief Justice, judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal Honorable Prime Minister,  Honourable former President, Honourable Speaker, ministers who are now much maligned and members of the bar. I must thank you for facilitating me on this occasion and I must thank Mr. Ronald Perera who came and informed me. Ronald has the same traits as his father. So, it is not surprising that he has to work for the UNP.

Then to Tilak Marapana, whom I first worked with as the attorney General and then in the government. I think the only person in Sri Lanka who has held the Ministry of Defence without being president or prime minister

To Faiz (Mustafa), whom I've known for a long. When I entered the bar, he belonged to the Attorney General's Department and to whose long association has helped me in the sticky parts of my career. And of course, Romesh (de Silva). That's the relationship that goes back a few generations. Our fathers were friends,  two grandfathers were friends and both of us worked under H W Jayewardene.

So, with the three of you, it also has given me sufficient courage to come and speak here. A lot of people ask me for 50 years you're not 50 years at the bar. I said no, I practiced for 50 years. The only thing was after five years, I moved out of HW’s Chambers to J.R. Jayawardena's Chambers. And I must tell you, that J.R. Jayawardena's Chambers were far more exciting than HW's Chambers.

So from practicing the law, I must say it was quite useful. I must thank my senior H.W Jayawardena for all I learned, the meticulous work and to Vernon Wijetunga with whom I worked, and to Mr. Ambelawana, whose, chambers I learned the tax laws and the commercial laws, which seems to be helping me now in where to find the money because most of those who didn't pay taxes came to Mr. Ambelawana.

And of course, to Late M. Thiruchelwam who rang me from the first day itself and gave me a brief. So that was the four who really guided my career and of course, my father, who pushed me on to being a lawyer. By that time I was a sixth-generation lawyer and the seventh also started out in  Kurunegala, practicing there at a time when the coconut plantations were being opened and made more money writing deeds than appearing in courts. So in the background, I have to remember them all and those who were with me both in the law college and the law faculty. My thanks to them. My appreciation of what I learned from Professor Nadarajah, who was a leading authority in Roman-Dutch law after R. W. Lee passed away.

Then Dr. Marc Cooray and Professor C F Amerasinghe are amongst many others, and among those who are still alive is Savitri Gunasekara who was my professor in legal systems. So, if I have at any time, broken the legal system, the blame lies on her.

Nirmala Chandrahassan, who was also one of my lecturers and of course, my lecturer in criminal law, G L. Peiris. So you can see from where I've learned to apply criminal law.

In my group, you refer to the members, Faiz Mustafa those who are with me in Royal. But I must tell you what those who were with me in the law faculty in my year other than me one became the chief justice. So between the two of us, we held three of the four most important posts in the Constitution. There were two Judges. There was Charitha who was with me at school in the institutions and in the chambers and the ministry. There was Palitha Kohona today in China we had a fair number of those who were involved in other legal work practices like Suri Ratnapala, and Austin Pulle a fair number and people like Mr. Jayakumar and all who are all along with us. It's a small number, but I have to remember them.

And then actually, the court was interesting. I want I don't think I practiced for five years because I remember one year when the ALJ was introduced, we had no work, so it was four, and that one year was spent in politics. But that's how interesting it was. And when the time came, it was H.W Jayawardena who told me that you have to choose between law and politics because you can't practice if you are doing politics. And his brother immediately said, no, you need not be in the bar, but you can practice the law in Parliament. So I came from one side to the other. Of course, the new chambers included some of young lawyers like Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali so ventured out on our own.

I must say it was the experience of practicing the law to making the law. But I also went into a profession that, was a part of the legal system when they were first enrolled as advocates and proctors after they studied, I must remind Romesh that there was only one school at that time, and they studied there and they came over. They came to the Legislative Council and took it over. C. Laurence, James Alwis, Richard Morgan, and Muthukumaraswamy dominated the Legislative Council making the second home for lawyers, and lawyers have carried their onwards. There was only one parliament without lawyers, where lawyers did not play a major role that the 1956 parliament look at what a disaster it became, so we should always have some lawyers in the parliament.

But the law itself, their interest in making laws and watching laws also be made by the judiciary. I remember the 1978 Constitution, which I was involved in drafting, and most of the 13th Amendment in which I had the privilege of working also with Dr. Colvin R De Silva. Finally, what it meant was decided by the Supreme Court and by one judge. As the single judge has determined how we operate the Constitution today. So part of my job, I thought, always. I'm experiencing to find you in the relationship between the judiciary and the Parliament. After Liyanage vs the Queen,  the judgment, the first Republican Constitution changed the relationship. And then the second Republican Constitution went ahead with it. So, as you understand, one was done by Colvin R De Silva and the other was done by his own classmate, J R Jayawardena So both decided to put the same clause in. But it's we who are in Parliament who in the executive and the judiciary, who've got to see how we get along. What is a fine-tuning where what are the powers of parliament? What is the right of the judiciary and how does the executive function? It is not an easy task, but I must say that we have been able so far in Sri Lanka to carry on with a few problems on and off, and that, I thought was one of the major contributions that I had to make Parliament because part of the law actually is what the courts have made in the UK.

If you take the old cases like John Hampden it was all made by the courts. But that was in a country that didn't have a written constitution, it was more difficult in the US, especially the Reds court case, which sparked off the Civil War and then the issue of President Lincoln in Ex Parte Merryman. I still remember what Lincoln said at that time. It was his constitutional. His main constitutional duty was to save the government, even if it meant ignoring a law for that purpose. Now, this is the biggest controversy that's got on there what can the executive do? What can the judiciary do? So we have also seen recently some of the more valuable and innovative decisions were done by one lady. Gina Miller, went once to court to say that the Cabinet hasn't got the executive power of the UK to pull out of the European Union without approval from Parliament. The second one is very, very interesting. In the Supreme Court,  she filed an action against Boris Johnson, who wanted the Parliament prorogued. And the Supreme Court laid a time limit on which the Parliament could be prorogued unless you had the consent of all party leaders. So this is how the law is being made. You can make the Law has been followed, or you can have instances that come to conflict, how to steer through this depends both on the skills of the politicians and the lawyers. And at a time when we want the Constitution respected, that essentially came at a time when there is a question mark on the Constitution.

Such a big question mark that without a single vote in Parliament, I could become the president. But I think we are now going back to normalcy. To do that, I require the help of all of you. As far as the economic problems are concerned, I've been asked how I'm handling finances and economics without having done economics. I say Very simply. I do it as a lawyer. I have got a brief I got to see How can we leave? That's all. So you get the help of all the experts and ensure that you have the results. So it's easy for any of you to be a minister of finance if you really study your brief, that's what it comes to. But it's something more than that's not more than the economy. We had a bad time we are getting out of it. We have a challenge when the whole system is being questioned by a younger generation and more so also when we have now the opportunity of healing the wounds of the past or letting go. So we in parliament have decided we talk among ourselves to see how we can reconcile issues of ethnic differences, issues of religious differences. The concerns are also genuine concerns that people have that this should not lead to the breakup of the unity and integrity of our state. So, it is not an easy task, but it's not an impossible task. What I want to ask you from everyone here is. This is not only a matter for politicians, I would like very much if we can all get together and put our heads together so that in the 75th year of our independence that we can put the major questions behind us and be the Children of one mother.

It will also give us sufficient understanding, I think, to appreciate each other's viewpoints and to prepare government to be carried on. So I don't want to take any more of your time. I think the time for speeches is over. And now the time for inner reflection has to begin. So, therefore, I thank all of you for having invited me here and thank all those who organized it.”

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