Justice Chitrasiri – Ceremonial Welcome I am happy to welcome His Lordship Justice K.T. Chitrasiri as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
Your Lordship is possessed of an illustrious academic and professional background and is ideally suited for this new appointment. If I may traverse a few of Your Lordship’s many achievements, it is noteworthy that Your Lordship has an LLB from the University of Colombo and a post-graduate qualification from Queen Mary College, London. Before adorning the Bench, Your Lordship gained experience not only as a legal practitioner and as a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo and a Visiting Scholar at the Law School, University of Deakin, Australia, but also held some significant posts in the public sector. Among them was Your Lordship’s tenure as a Legal Officer at the State Graphite Corporation and, subsequently, as an Assistant Legal Draftsman at the Legal Draftsman’s Department, as Director of the Human Rights Commission and as the Registrar of Companies. The publication of Your Lordship’s book on intellectual property issues in Sri Lanka, presentations on the law relating to children and participation at worldwide seminars on a variety of subjects amply demonstrate the academic experience of Your Lordship. However, it was Your Lordship’s appointment as a Primary Court Judge in 1980 which marked the beginning of a long career in the judiciary, culminating with the august appointment we celebrate today. Therefore, having vast experience as a Magistrate, District Court Judge, Judge of the High Court and Judge of the Court of Appeal, Your Lordship certainly needs no introduction to fundamental principles of judicial ethics. But, in the face of constant challenges and pressures, it is necessary to remind ourselves of those ethics.
In this regard, I refer Your Lordship and all those gathered here today to an important source from the Indian Judiciary, one of the strongest and respected judiciaries in the world. In 1997, the Supreme Court of India in its Full Court adopted a Charter called the “Restatement of Values of Judicial Life”. It is meant to serve as a guide to be observed by all judges and indispensable in the impartial administration of justice. Though not exhaustive, it is a complete code of the canons of judicial ethics. There are 16 canons and I now read some of the more significant ones:
1. Justice must not merely be done but it must also be seen to be done. The behaviour and conduct of members of the higher judiciary must reaffirm the people’s faith in the impartiality of the judiciary. Accordingly, any act of a Judge of the Supreme Court or a High Court, whether in official or personal capacity, which erodes the credibility of this perception has to be avoided.
2. Close association with individual members of the Bar, particularly those who practice in the same court, shall be eschewed.
3. A Judge shall not hear and decide a matter in which a member of his family, a close relation or a friend is concerned.
4. A Judge shall not enter into public debate or express his views in public on political matters or on matters that are pending or are likely to arise for judicial determination.
5. A Judge is expected to let his judgments speak for themselves. He shall not give interviews to the media.
6. A Judge should not seek any financial benefit in the form of a perquisite or privilege attached to his office unless it is clearly available
7. Every Judge must at all times be conscious that he is under the public gaze and there should be no act or omission by him which is unbecoming of the high office he occupies and the public esteem in which that office is held.
This Charter which was ratified and adopted by Indian Judiciary in the Chief Justices’ Conference 1999 should be a guide to our judiciary too. Time does not permit me to elaborate on each of the canons in the Charter, but I believe that the first and the last are particularly important to the current Sri Lankan context and, therefore, these two aspects of judicial ethics need special mention. I begin with judicial impartiality. Certainly, we have constitutional safeguards which are meant to ensure judicial independence and impartiality. Under the 19th Amendment, our Constitution guarantees that the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal shall be by the President, subject to approval of the Constitutional Council. It is no longer the case that the appointment is purely by the Executive. Therefore, the public should have no reason to perceive that judgments will be marred with political bias in favour of the Executive. Independence of the higher judiciary is also strengthened by the process applicable to the removal of judges of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Removal of such judges shall only be by an order of the President after an address of Parliament supported by a majority of the Members of Parliament has been presented to the President for such removal on the ground of proved mis behaviour or incapacity. Since both the Executive and Legislative branches of government are involved in the process of removing judges, a judge has the security to act without fear of removal upon a judgment against the State. However, merely having a legal framework which contemplated judicial independence is meaningless, if it is not reflected in the conduct of members of the judiciary themselves. And as such, a judge must build and maintain for himself a reputation of independence and impartiality.
I now turn to the second aspect of judicial ethics which I choose to focus on today, from among the many canons in the Indian Charter. That is that every Judge should conduct himself in a manner which is not unbecoming of the high office he occupies and the public esteem in which that office is held. This is really not a principle which is exclusive to judicial officers. For, any person holding any high public office must be conscious that he is under the
public gaze and has to live by a set of standards which instill public respect. However, since members of the judiciary daily judge the acceptability and non-acceptability of actions by members of the ordinary public, judicial officers have an even higher burden of responsibility in ensuring that their conduct is honourable and worthy of respect. Therefore, not only is it that a Supreme Court judge should conduct himself in a manner which accords with public expectation and esteem reposed in the high office that he holds, but he must also be equal before the law in the rare event that his conduct is unbecoming. Indeed, it would be unfair if judges themselves remain unjudged by the very public that they judge every day. And it would be even more unfair if the law gives him special protection and places him beyond the reach of justice. Article 12(1) of our Constitution in no uncertain terms guarantees that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. Accordingly, salient features which mark an honourable judge are judicial and moral integrity, as well as humility to bow down to the right to equality in its fullest sense, even when the consequences may be adverse to his interests.
Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough that judicial ethics are fundamental to the administration of justice and public confidence in this revered organ of the State. It is in this light that Your Lordship’s background is deeply appreciated and Your Lordship’s appointment augurs well for the future of our judiciary. I wish Your Lordship well in continuing to maintain the high standards of judicial conduct and in discharging the great duties which lie ahead.