We have carefully followed the public debate on the appointment of Mr. Ramanathan Kannan as a High Court Judge, particularly the exchange of communications and statements made by various groups and politicians. We are of the opinion that all parties must act with responsibility on this appointment. Having examined the facts we wish to state the following:
1. Appointments to higher courts have not been limited to career judges in democracies including in Sri Lankan. It is a healthy practice to appoint as judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Courts from and among the career judges, and suitable individuals from the official and unofficial bar. There have been several appointments of private practitioners to the High Court from 1974 onwards, one of the recent appointments being that of Mr. Paramarajah during Chief Justice Sarath Silva’s tenure of office, one of the reasons being the lack of Tamil-speaking judges as is the case of Mr. Kannan’s appointment.
2. Following the traditions, upon a nomination by the President of the Bar Association, Mr. Kannan's name has been proposed to Hon President who had then referred same to the Chief Justice for the concurrence of the Judicial Service Commission. Upon the relevant recommendation from the Attorney General, the JSC had, on 5th January 2017, given its concurrence. Mr. Kannan had been in the official bar for a considerable period before reverting to an active private practice.
3. During the tenure of the present President Maithripala Sirisena and the present Chief Justice, 23 individuals have been appointed to the High Court of which as much as 21 had been from and among the District Court judges. Only one appointment each has been made from official and unofficial bar.
4. In our view, when appointing a practicing lawyer to the higher judiciary, views should be obtained only from the President of the Bar Association and not from its committees such as the Bar Council or the Executive Committee. If the whole Bar Council or the Executive Committee is involved there will be canvassing and open debate, compromising the nominee’s independence. The practice has always been for the President of the Bar Association to make such recommendations, whenever suitable candidates are proposed.
5. It is unfortunate that insinuations are made by politicians that Mr. Kannnan had been proposed by a political party. We have made inquiries and are satisfied that there is no truth in these allegations. We also understand that, contrary to claims, Mr. Kannan has never applied to join the judiciary earlier.
6. We are disturbed by the irresponsible reaction of the Judicial Services Association by going to the extent of making public statements and boycotting their support for the Bar Association in conducting its annual elections. Such decisions will go against the healthy relationship between the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Judges of the minor judiciary. Such actions will also undermine the independence of the judiciary.
In view of the above, we urge the public not be mislead by false statements made by interested parties. We also urge the members of the Judges Association representing minor judiciary to act with responsibility.
Lal Wijenayaka, K.S. Ratnavale & JC Weliamuna
On behalf of Lawyers for Democracy