Right To Life Human Rights Center

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Thirty days statutory time frame for filing fundamental rights petitions

The Supreme Court decided on July 19, 2022, to dismiss the fundamental rights petition filed by Mr. Philip Dissanayake, Executive Director of the Right to Life Human Rights Center, and Mr. Prasanga Fernando of the same organization against Mr. Deshabandu Tennakoon, the Deputy Inspector General of Police, other responsible police chiefs, the Minister of Public Security, and the Attorney General, without hearing. The petition was, in connection with the attacks that took place near the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence on May 9, 2022, and the subsequent violence across the country

The Supreme Court accepted the initial objection presented by the state counsel representing Attorney General that this case numbered SC/FRA/15/23 had been filed after the statutory time frame had passed and reached the above decision. Mr. Shaminda Wickrama, the senior state counsel who appeared for the respondents including the Attorney General filed the initial objections.

The Minister of Public Security, the Senior DIG in charge of the Western Province Deshbandu Tennakoon, ten senior DIGs, and the Attorney General were named as respondents in the petition.

The petition was called before the three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Messrs. S. Thureiraja, Yasantha Kodagoda, and Arjuna Obeysekera.

Mr. Lakshan Dias, AAL, appeared for the petitioners and presented the facts before the court.

In a statement, the Right to Life Human Rights Center said: “We humbly accept this decision of the Supreme Court and present our opinion on the process related to the filing of this case and the violence that took place on May 9, which should be given wide public attention.

  1. We believe that the acts of violence that occurred on May 9th completely disabled the rule of law in the country.
  2. Starting with the attacks on the protest near the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s official residence, violence spread in the country brutally killing a member of parliament and destroying many properties including houses and vehicles. We want such acts never to happen again.
  3. The inaction of the police, who are responsible for maintaining law and order, is particularly marked when violence spread throughout the country on that day.
  4. So far, the reasons for the inaction of the police have not been presented.
  5. In this situation, as an organization that advocates for the human rights of the general public, we believe that it is our responsibility to take measures to prevent such a grave situation from happening again.
  6. Accordingly, we have already taken measures to prevent the recurrence of such a situation by carrying out several studies, a short documentary film, and other awareness measures regarding the violent incidents that took place on May 9.
  7. In addition to the above-mentioned measures, to prevent the recurrence of such violence, we filed this fundamental rights petition intending to bring to light the facts regarding police inaction on May 9, which the police have not disclosed so far, and to direct them to take action to prevent such a situation from occurring again.
  8. It is a constitutional requirement that a fundamental rights case should be filed within a one-month statutory period after the violation.
  9. The aforesaid case is dismissed for non-fulfillment of the above-mentioned requirement.
  10. Here we recall that the state of Sri Lanka was not in a normal state from May 9 to the height of the July 9 struggle and for a few more months.
  11. In such a complex situation, our organization could carry out studies regarding the incidents of May 9 and publish the said study reports. We were able to take other measures including filing of the aforementioned case to prevent such an incident from happening again.
  12. While we regret not being able to file this case within the statutory time frame, we also emphasize that law enforcement officers have an inalienable responsibility to prevent the recurrence of incidents like the May 9 incidents.

According to the practical situation in Sri Lanka, it is extremely difficult for a person who has faced a violation to file a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court within 30 days. There are also instances the fundamental rights petitions submitted after the statutory time frame have been considered for hearing.

Section (5) of Article 126 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka regarding fundamental rights reads as follows. “Regarding any petition submitted or any reference made under this constitution, the Supreme Court shall examine and complete the proceedings within two months from the date of submission or reference.” In practice, many fundamental rights petitions take longer than the statutory time frame to be decided. Some petitions take years to be heard.

Right to Life Human Rights Center is of the view that the issue of the time frame for filing fundamental rights petitions should not be an obstacle in the administration of justice.

Right to Life Human Rights Center

20 July 2022

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