A massive transformation of the whole justice system was underway with full-time sub-committees on Criminal Law reforms, Civil Law reforms and Commercial Law reforms while working hard whilst another committee of experts was drafting the new Constitution, said Justice Minister Ali Sabry on Thursday, February 11.
The Minister said so at the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Justice on the transformation of the Criminal Justice System.
The discussion on community-based correction was set in motion following the presentation by Assistant Secretary General of Parliament and former Justice Official, Tikiri K. Jayathilake. The Assistant Secretary General addressing the committee said that Criminal Law and the notion of justice were entwined and it was important to extricate an individual into society as a responsible citizen rather than labeling them as criminals.
Assistant Secretary General of Parliament Tikiri K. Jayathilake also said the above objective could be achieved by the Consultative Committee via two tiers, one being the political tier, inclusive of the political leadership that would drive towards the requisite reforms. The second tier included officials and professionals representing various fields who would contribute their expertise towards the creation and development of relevant reforms.
Minister Ali Sabry said that it was the intention of the Ministry to involve everyone who was willing to contribute to the decision-making process for betterment. The Minister also pointed out that before COVID-19 and under normal circumstances, there were approximately 30,000 to 33, 000 in prisons, whereas the capacity is only 11,000.
The vast majority were remand prisoners, whilst only an approximate number of 8000 were convicts. Ninety per cent or more in remand prison were drug addicts and not drug related criminals, the Minister pointed out.
When called for the 2018-2019 statistics from the Government Analyst’s Department, the Minister explained that only 114 cases were in possession of the pure quantity of drugs. He stated that 99% of those who were arrested, which is approximately 3300 in number, were only in possession of 2-5g of drugs. Weighing on the gravity of the situation, the Minister explained how large-scale drug criminal cases had stagnated as the High Courts have been clogged by minor cases as mentioned.
Minister Sabry said that rehabilitating such individuals through community-based correction was important rather than allowing them to mingle with large scale drug criminals paving way for the conversion of a drug victim into a drug related criminal.
State Minister of Prison Management and Prisoners’ Rehabilitation, Lohan Ratwatte said that 250 acres had been given by the UDA and measures had been taken to relocate the prisons from commercial areas such as the Welikada Prison, Women’s Prison, Magazine New Remand Prison to Horana in order to increase the capacity by 10 folds in comparison to the existing 38.5 acres in Welikada.
Expressing his views, State Minister Susil Premajayantha said that there was a considerable delay in receiving the Government Analyst’s Report which caused a delay in Court hearings. The Minister of Justice acknowledged the same and stated that respective measures had been taken towards resolving the matter.
MP Weerasumana Weerasinghe said that it was mandatory to include subjects related to Law, Crime and conviction into the school syllabus as children should be educated in that regard from an early age. State Minister of Education Reforms, Promotion of Open Universities and Distance Learning, Susil Premajayantha as well as the Minister of Justice stated that the matter would be looked into and measures would be taken to incorporate legal education into the school curriculum.
The MP also requested to consider the need of having a separate mechanism in the execution of Law when it came to children as it affected their future and their development into adulthood.
In response to a concern raised by MP Gevindu Kumaratunga regarding the attempt to conduct Law College examinations in English as a mandatory requirement, the Minister of Justice explained that such decisions were taken by the Council of Legal Education. The Minister affirmed that the new reform had no effect upon Law entrance examination and it would be held as usual in all three languages. Adding to the same, the Minister explained that such measures had been taken to cater to the demands of the field and to improvise on the quality of legal education and practice.
State Minister, Lohan Ratwatte; State Minister, Susil Premajayantha; and MPs such as Weerasumana Weerasinghe, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Sagara Kariyawasam, Udayana Kirindigoda, Madhura Vithanage, Charles Nirmalanathan and Gevindu Kumaratunga marked their presence at the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Justice chaired by the Minister of Justice, Ali Sabry.