Rule of law de­mands equal­ity, jus­tice, law-abid­ing Govt

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - COMMENT -

of in­te­gra­tion among di­verse per­spec­tives, while the rule of pol­i­tics seems tied to sig­nif­i­cant frag­men­ta­tion within the polity.

There is no ques­tion that the rule of law is, nev­er­the­less, rightly re­garded as be­ing the foun­da­tion of any demo­cratic so­ci­ety. But the rule of law is mean­ing­less if there is no ac­cess to jus­tice. It is point­less to be granted rights if you have no way of en­forc­ing them.

Some gen­er­ally agreed prin­ci­ples of ac­cess to jus­tice are that: laws should be ac­ces­si­ble, clear, pre­cise and open to pub­lic scru­tiny peo­ple should only be pun­ished for crimes set out by law and not sim­ply by the dis­cre­tion of the state, the ju­di­ciary or oth­er­wise courts must be ac­ces­si­ble, af­ford­able and cases should be heard with­out ex­ces­sive de­lay all peo­ple should be treated equally un­less ob­jec­tive dif­fer­ences jus­tify oth­er­wise there must be a re­spect for hu­man rights and, of course, the state must abide by both its in­ter­nal laws and its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions. Not only should there be ac­cess to jus­tice, but there must be ad­e­quate ac­cess to jus­tice, in the sense that there be a fair and in­de­pen­dent court sys­tem and the cit­i­zens must be re­al­is­ti­cally able to utilise it.

When I was a law stu­dent, I was very soon in­tro­duced to ' the man on the Clapham om­nibus'. That rea­son­able, very av­er­age, person who first made his ap­pear­ance in Lord Jus­tice Greer's judg­ment in the 1932 case of Hall vs Brook­lands Auto-Rac­ing Club.

Say we were to ex­plain to him the con­cept of the rule of law. His rea­son­able­ness would un­doubt­edly lend it­self to agree­ing with the con­cepts be­hind it -equal­ity, jus­tice and a state lim­ited by law.

And then, say, we ex­plained the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

And then, let's sup­pose, we ask our rea­son­able man -- who by this time has likely got off the bus and be­gun hur­riedly walk­ing away -- whether he be­lieves we live un­der the rule of law? I ex­pect he may say that un­equal ac­cess to jus­tice has the same ef­fect as in­equal­ity be­fore the law. In­equal­ity be­fore the law is not sus­tain­able at all.

I am re­minded of what US Supreme Court Judge Bren­nan said in 1956:

' Noth­ing ran­kles more in the hu­man heart than a brood­ing sense of in­jus­tice. Ill­ness we can put up with, but in­jus­tice makes us want to pull things down. When only the rich can en­joy the law, as a doubt­ful lux­ury, and the poor, who need it most, can­not have it be­cause its ex­pense puts it be­yond their reach, the threat to the ex­is­tence of free democ­racy is not imag­i­nary but very real, be­cause democ­racy's very life de­pends upon mak­ing the ma­chin­ery of jus­tice so ef­fec­tive that every cit­i­zen shall be­lieve in the ben­e­fit of im­par­tial­ity and fair­ness.'

There­fore, the chal­lenges fac­ing the stu­dent of law to­day are enor­mous, it is ex­cit­ing as well and en­tic­ing too. Great ca­reers are there to be built.

But a great ca­reer can only be achieved through per­se­ver­ance, com­mit­ment, and a pas­sion for excellence in all that you do.

Excellence en­com­passes qual­i­ta­tive as­pects such as a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, team spirit, crit­i­cal think­ing skills, val­ues, in­no­va­tions, gover­nance and lead­er­ship.

Dear grad­uands, it is not how good you are, it is how good you want to be.

The ul­ti­mate goals one sets in life are im­por­tant. Goals are of course for you to choose, but in choos­ing them re­mem­ber val­ues and morals are im­por­tant. Other nor­ma­tive prin­ci­ples should be de­rived from them.

The gen­er­ous ci­ta­tion read out as ‘the cause’ for the hon­our be­stowed on me to­day, is a life­time achieve­ment.

A great and fruit­ful ca­reer is within your reach, only if you choose to learn from the ex­pe­ri­ences of those who have gone be­fore you.

Re­call Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s words from “A Psalm of Life” “Lives of great men all re­mind us We can make our lives sub­lime And de­part­ing, leave be­hind us, Foot­prints in the sands of time.” Foot­prints are made at dif­fer­ent lev­els and vary in scope and in­ten­sity.

This takes place at the school level, in in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing and in the larger com­mu­nity.

The Univer­sity of Colombo, the old­est univer­sity in the is­land is a good ex­am­ple of an in­sti­tu­tion that has pro­duced men and women who have made suf­fi­cient foot­prints in the sands of time. Men and women who have trans­formed the lives of in­di­vid­u­als and shaped the so­ci­ety for bet­ter by in­vest­ing in the skills of the younger gen­er­a­tion and in be­ing piv­otal in driv­ing long term growth.

It re­mains the re­spon­si­bil­ity and obli­ga­tion of the univer­sity to make sure that foot­prints be made and that they stand the test of time. The older in­sti­tu­tions are them­selves grow­ing larger with re­spect to stu­dent en­rol­ment and staff de­ploy­ment. New in­sti­tu­tions are com­ing on board with greater fi­nan­cial re­sources. The end re­sult is a chal­lenge to main­tain good qual­ity in teach­ing and re­search. It calls for greater com­mit­ment and de­vo­tion. The univer­sity should be the heart that pumps new life into the so­ci­ety and the coun­try at large.

By all ac­counts I am happy to recog­nise that the Univer­sity of Colombo is meet­ing the chal­lenges of in­tel­lec­tual and in­sti­tu­tional promo­tion of teach­ing and re­search in ad­mirable ways un­der the lead­er­ship of se­nior pro­fes­sor Lak­sh­man Dis­sanayake, the vice-chan­cel­lor.

K. Kanag-Is­varan, P.C. de­liv­er­ing the con­vo­ca­tion ad­dress

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