History of the Office of Attorney General in Sri Lanka

The office of "Attorney-General" was formally adopted in the year 1884. A detailed account of the history of the office of Attorney General of Sri Lanka can be found in the Background Paper titled âAttorney General as advisor to the Government and as guardian of Public Interests, which was presented by the then Solicitor General the late Justice K.M.M.B.Kulatunga PC at the Conference of Attorneys“ General (Asia and Pacific Region) which was held in Colombo from 8th to 12th August 1984, in order to commemorate one hundred years of the Institution of Attorney General in Sri Lanka Excerpts from that paper are as follows; 

It was in the year 1884 that the designation Attorney-General was adopted. However the office of the Attorney-General could be traced back to the office of 'Advocate Fiscal' which was in existence towards the latter stages of Dutch rule in the Island and which office continued even during the early years of British occupation until the year 1834 when the designation was changed to that of "King's Advocate". Land Reform Commission v. Grand Central Ltd., S.L.L.R. 1981 C.A.p. 147 at p. 153.

Bonser C.J. in the year 1898, in the case of Le Mesurier v Leyard 3 NLR 227 at p. 230 observed that:

The Present Attorney-General is the lineal successor of the Advocate Fiscal, am just as in the old days action against the Government was brought against the Advocate Fiscal as representing the legal ˜Fiscal™ or Treasury, so they may now be brought against the Attorney General.

During the reign of Queen Victoria and prior to the adoption of the designation Attorney-General the office was called am known as Queen's Advocate. The judgement of Cayley, CJ and Clarence J in the case of Moragodaliyanage Peiris Perera (1880) 3 S.C.C. 161 show that he was also the principal law Officer of the Government in all criminal matters as well.

By Ordinance No: 1 of 1883 the designations of the officers known as the Queen's Advocate am Deputy Queen's Advocate were altered to Attorney-General and Solicitor-General respectively and the deputies to the Queen's Advocate were named Crown Counsel. All rights, precedents, powers, privileges, which at the passing of the Ordinance belonged to, were vested in or were exercised by the Queen's Advocate or the Deputy Queen's Advocate were re-vested in the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General respectively.

The change took effect from 1st January 1884. In introducing the Ordinance in the Legislative Council, the Queen's Advocate said that the Bill proposed that ‘the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, besides having the powers exercised in England should have the same rights and privileges which the Law Officers of the Crown have hitherto possessed in the Colony.

Our records show that from as far back as the year 1884 the Attorney-General was assisted in the discharge of his legal functions by the Solicitor-General and Crown Counsel. In due course an officer designated the Crown Conveyencer (later designated as Crown Proctor) was also appointed to the Attorney-General's Department to attend to conveyancing work and to assist in the conduct of civil litigation of the Government.

Under the Donoughmore Constitution the provision of legal advice to the Governor was the responsibility of the Legal Secretary and the Attorney-General's Department. The institution of Criminal prosecutions and Civil proceedings on behalf of the Crown was the duty of the Attorney-General's Department (Soulbury Report 1945 p.105)

The Soulbury Commissioners recommended that the functions of the Legal Secretary certifying Bills prior to submission to the Governor for assentshould be transferred to the Attorney-General (Soulbury Report p.92)

The Commissioners recommended the appointment of a Minister of Justice to deal with the subjects then allocated to the Legal Secretary. They also recommended that under the new Constitution, for some time at least, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General should not lose their status as public servants and become Ministers and that the provision of legal advice to the Governor General should in future be a duty of the Attorney-General (Soublury Report p.105)

The Ceylon (Constitution) order in Council 1946 (Cap. 379) gave effect to the above recommendations except that in regard to Bills it provided that the Speaker shall consult the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General before giving his certificate to any Bill. It was only after such certificate that the Bill could be presented to the Governor-General for assent.

Sri Lanka attained independence on the February 1948. She became a republic under the 1972 Constitution. The Governor-General was replacedby a President who was nominated by the Prime Minister and who was enjoined to act on the advice of the Prime Minister and other Ministers. Until 1972, the Attorney-General was appointed by the Governor-General and thereafter by the President. The Constitution of 1978 provided for an executive President to be elected by the People Under that Constitution also the Attorney-General isappointed by the President.

It is observed that none of the Constitutions adopted since 1946 altered the non-political status of the Attorney General and the Solicitor-General. The Attorney-General continued to be the Chief Law Officer of the State. His independence and the status remained unaffected. However, his functions were increased under the 1972 Constitution. The Constitution of 1978 vested in him many more functions.

In his welcome address at the same conference, the then Attorney General Mr.Shiva Pasupathi PC stated as follows;

It has been said that the Attorney-General is the lineal successor of the Advocate Fiscal and later, the King's Advocate. It appears that during the Dutch period of our history, there was the Advocate Fiscal appointed by the Government of Batavia, who combined two different functions. In civil cases, he deliberated and voted as a judge: in criminal cases he was considered as the public prosecutor. During the British period that followed, when in 1802 the Supreme Court of Judicature was established, the office of Advocate Fiscal was retained. In the Charter of Justice in 1833, the Office of Advocate Fiscal underwent the transformation to that of Kings Advocate. It was 100 years ago, in 1884 that the office of Attorney-General was established by law consequent to a decision of the Supreme Court. The Queen's Advocate in introducing the Bill in Legislative Council said that the Bill was to enable the exercise of the same powers of the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom. However, even in the United Kingdom, the origin of the office of Attorney-General has not been definitely established. It has been regarded as a transition from, the duties performed by the Kings Attorney in the medieval era to that of the principal Law Officer of the Crown of the present day.


Whose who in the Attorney General’s Department

Past officers who went on to become Chief Justices

     Hon Sir Anton Bertram KC

     Hon Richard Cayley

     Hon Charles Peter Layard

     Hon Edwin Arthur Lewis Wijeywardena KC

     Hon John Howard KC

     Hon E.G.P. Jayathilake KC

     Hon Allan Rose KC

     Hon Hema Henry Basnayake KC

     Hon G.P.A.Silva

     Hon Victor Tennakoon QC

     Hon G.P.S. De Silva

     Hon Sarath N. Silva PC

     Hon Asoka De Silva

     Hon Mohan Peiris PC


Past officers who went on to become Judges of the Supreme Court 

     Hon Walter Pereira KC

     Hon M.W.H. De Silva KC

     Hon L.M.D. De Silva KC

     Hon Hector Deheragoda

     Hon R.S. Wanasundera

     Hon Percy Colin Thome

     Hon H.A.G.De Silva

     Hon Joseph Grenier

     Hon Lovell Burchette Clarence

     Hon Henry Lorentz Wendt

     Hon Thomas Forrest Garvin

     Hon L.M.Maartensz

     Hon V.M.Fernando

     Hon Noel Gratien QC

     Hon V.M.Fernando

     Hon T.A. De S. Wijesundera

     Hon  G.P.S. De Silva

     Hon G.R.T.D. Bandaranayake

     Hon R.N.M. Dheeraratne

     Hon P. Ramanathan

     Hon P.R.P. Perera

     Hon Sarath N. Silva PC

     Hon A De Z. Gunawardana

     Hon K.M.M.B. Kulatunge PC

     Hon D.P.S. Gunasekera

     Hon Ameer Ismail

     Hon S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya PC

     Hon H.S.Yapa

     Hon Asoka De Silva

     Hon Nihal Jayasinghe

     Hon Shiranee Thilakawardene

     Hon A.R.N. Fernando

     Hon Gamini Amaratunge

     Hon Andrew Somawansa

     Hon D.J.De S. Balapatabendi

     Hon Saleem Marsoof PC

     Hon K. Sripavan

     Hon P.A. Ratnayake PC

     Hon Sathya Hettige PC

     Hon W.P.G.Dep PC

     Hon S.Eva Wanasundara PC

     Hon Rohini Marasinghe

     Hon Buwanaka Aluwihare PC

     Hon K.S.J. De Abrew

     Hon. Sarath de Abrew

     Hon Priyantha Jayawardena PC


Past officers who went on to become President of the Court of Appeal 

     Hon Sarath N. Silva

     Hon Saleem Marsoof PC

     Hon Sathya Hettige PC

     Hon S.Sriskandarajah

     Hon Vijith Malalgoda PC


Past officers who went on to become Judges of the Court of Appeal 

     Hon Sarath N. Silva

     Hon W.N.D. Perera

     Hon P.H.K.Kulathilake

     Hon Gamini A.L Abeyrathne

     Hon S.Sriskandarajah

     Hon Eric Basnayake

     Hon Anil Goonaratne

     Hon A.H.M.D.Nawaz



First female Attorney General

Hon S.Eva Wanasundera PC

Hon Shanthi Eva Wanasundera PC was appointed as the 26th Attorney General of Sri Lanka in August 2011, thus becoming the first female Attorney General in the history of the Attorney General’s Department. She was also the first female Senior State Counsel, Deputy Solicitor General, Additional Solicitor General and Solicitor General. She is presently serving as a Judge of the Supreme Court.



First female State Counsel 

Justice Shiranee Tillekawardena

Justice Tillekawardena, the first female to be appointed as a State Counsel in the history of the Attorney General’s Department. She was later appointed as the first female High Court Judge of Sri Lanka and  also became the first female Judge of the Court of Appeal as well as the first female President of the Court of Appeal. Subsequently she was elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court and also acted on several occasions as Chief Justice. She retired in April 2014.


Three Generations in the Attorney General’s Department

J.E.M. Obeyesekere, R.I. Obeyesekere PC  and Arjuna  Obeyesekere

Two Generations in the Attorney General’s Department

Father and son

 Justice E.H.T Gunasekara and sons S.L Gunasekara and S.J.Gunasekara 

E.D. Wikramanayake and Arittha Wikramanayake

Ranjit Abeysuriya PC and Rohantha Abeysuriya

A.A de Silva PC and Lalin de Silva

Justice K.M.M.B Kulatunga PC and Gihan Kulatunga

D.P Kumarasinghe PC and Mahendra Kumarasinghe

Tissa Ekanayake and Charuka Ekanayake

Justice Jagath Balapatabendi and Isuru Balapatabendi

Aloy Ratnayake PC and Dilan Ratnayake

Justice Saleem Marsoof PC and Althaf Marsoof

C.R. De Silva PC and Shehan De Silva

Justice Nihal Jayasinghe and Manohara Jayasinghe


Father and daughter 

Justice T.A. de S. Wijesundera and Menaka Wijesundera

Justice Priyantha Perera and Sonali Perera

Justice Asoka de Silva and Kanishka de Silva

Justice Nihal Jayasinghe and Vichitri Jayasinghe

G.L.M. de Silva and Harshika de Silva

Anil Silva PC and Maheshika Silva

Jacob Joseph and Avindra de Silva


Mother and daughter 

Justice Shiranee Tilakawardena and Deepti Tilakawardena


Siblings in the Department

Justice Priyantha Perera and Srinath Perera PC

S.L Gunasekara and S.J.Gunasekara

Kumari Gamage and  Justice Vijith Malalgoda PC

Kalinga Indatissa PC  and Nalinda Indatissa

Harsha Fernando and Yuresha Fernando

Vichitri Jayasinghe and Manohara Jayasinghe

Uddala Suwandurugoda and Nadee Aparna Suwandurugoda

Nalin Hewawasam and Prabodhini Hewawasam



Past officers who have held prominent public office

Cabinet Ministers

 M. Tiruchelvam QC

 Tyronne Fernando PC

 M.H.M. Ashraff PC

 M.H.M.Naina Marikkar

 Tilak Marapone PC


 Governor of a Province

 Justice P. Ramanathan


Deputy Speaker 

 Chandima Weerakkody


Members of Parliament

 S.L. Gunasekara

 Chula Bandara

 N. Raviraj


Secretary General of Parliament

 Sam Wijesinghe

 Dhammika Dassanayake


Secretary Ministry of Justice

  Suhada Gamalath PC


Chairman of the Public Service Commission  

Justice Priyantha Perera

Justice Sathya Hettige PC


Chairman of the Commission to investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption 

 Justice T.A. de S. Wijesundera

 Justice Ameer Ismail

 Justice Jagath Balapatabendi


 Attorney General of Seychelles

 Tony Fernando 

 Ananda Amaranath


 Solicitor General of Marshall Islands

 Douglas Premaratne PC


 Solicitor General of Dominican Republic




Officers (other than the permanent holders of the office of Attorney General and Solicitor General) who have taken silk whilst at the Department

Srinath Perera P.C.

D.P.Kumarasinghe P.C.

Saleem Marsoof P.C.

Rienzie Arsecularatne PC

P.A.Ratnayake PC

Sathya Hettige PC 

A.Gnanathasan PC

Kumar Arulanantham PC

Suhada Gamalath PC

Jayantha Jayasuriya PC

Vijith Malalgoda PC

Buwaneka Aluvihare PC

Kapila Waidyaratne PC

Dappula de Livera PC

Murdu Fernando PC

Shavindra Fernando PC

Wasantha Navaratne Bandara PC

Dilrukshi Dias Wickramasinghe PC

Sanjay Rajaratnam PC



Those who have taken silk after leaving the Department

A.C.(Bunty) de Zoysa PC

J.W. Subasinghe PC

G.F.Sethukavaler PC

H.L. de Silva PC

Daya Perera PC

A.Mahendrarajah PC

George Candappa PC

R.I. Obeyesekere PC

Ranjit Abeysuriya PC

Faiz Musthapha PC

D.S.Wijesinghe PC

Kosala Wijayatilake PC

S.Sivarasa PC

A.A. de Silva PC

Mohan Peiris PC

Tirantha Walaliyadda PC

Anil Silva PC

Nihara Rodrigo PC

Dlindra Weerasuriya PC

Prasantha Lal de Alwis PC

Nihal Jayawardena PC

Kalinga Indatissa PC

Shanaka Ranasinghe PC

Nalin Ladduwahetty PC

Priyantha Jayawardena PC

Uditha Egalahewa PC


Permanent Holders of the Office of Attorney General >>