I want to be a bridge between the communities - Minister Ali Sabri | Sunday Observer

I want to be a bridge between the communities - Minister Ali Sabri

Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabri
Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabri

New Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabri told the Sunday Observer last week that his top priority will be to address the laws’ delays and modernise the legal system comprehensively to make it cost effective and efficient for the benefit of the masses.

He said he will work in those priority areas when the 19th Amendment is repealed and a new constitution is put in place.

In response to the criticism against his appointment as the Justice Minister he said, those who make such allegations have shown a complete lack of knowledge in the system of this country, ‘As a Minister there is nothing I can do arbitrarily without the blessings of the entire Cabinet,’ he said.

Q: Some have taken to social media to criticise your appointment as Justice Minister, this issue is being used by Opposition members and others with vested interests to attack the Government. Do you feel challenged by these comments?

A: I consider it as a great challenge to take up the Ministry of Justice because there is a lot of work to be done. The President and the Prime Minister must have had the confidence that I can meet the challenges, and that may be the reason why they chose me. As Justice Minister, I am bound to carry forward the policy of the Government as decided by the Cabinet Ministers headed by the President. There is nothing that I can do without the blessings of the Government. I will carry forward that policy. I have no time to worry about baseless allegations.

Q: Would you like to say something to your critics. The President promised a scientific Cabinet to help carry out his vision for the country. But there seems to be a big backlash on your appointment?

As far as I am concerned, that is exactly what had happened with the Cabinet. I have been a President’s Counsel since 2012. I have been in practice as a lawyer for 25 years. I have appeared in various types of cases covering constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law and civil law in all courts including the Supreme Court, High Court and provincial courts.

That is the professional side of my career. I have been the President of the Bar Association for two years.

This criticism is whipped up by a handful of people who can’t tolerate religious or communal harmony. I want to be a bridge between the communities. Leaving my legal practice was a big decision I had to take. I have made up my mind to walk on this path, solely to work for the good of the country.

Q: What would be on top of your priority list as the new Justice Minister?

I am saddened that my race had to be dragged in to embarrass the Government. What they should have asked me exactly was the role I would like to play as the new Minister…to address the issues in this sector including Sri Lanka’s greatest handicap –the issue of laws delays.

We are in the process of drafting a Cabinet paper to introduce amendments to reverse the 19th Amendment and restore powers of the Executive President, we are working on that at present. That will be our number one priority. The second will be introducing a fully fledged new Constitution.

Q: Are you going to completely abolish the 19th Amendment?

As to the specifics of this, the Cabinet has to take a decision. There is consensus that the 19th Amendment has to be replaced. But from what I understand, the five year term of President’s office and the clause that the President can run for office only twice will remain as it is.

Subject to that the other issues will be discussed within the Cabinet. However, 19 A will be substantially replaced with the 20th Amendment.

Q: How soon will the process be concluded, are you going to set a time frame?

We are planning to produce the draft 20-A in Parliament as soon as possible. We will probably discuss this at the first Cabinet meeting.

Thereafter, the specifics will be finalised at further meetings. Once the Cabinet approves the draft law from the Legal Draftsman’s office, it will be referred to the Attorney General.

It will then go to the Order Paper in Parliament , and at this stage if anyone wishes to challenge it, they may do so in the Supreme Court (SC). Subject to the SC determination it will be brought back to Parliament and at the Committee Stage various amendments can be proposed. This process could take 2-3 months.

We plan to present the draft 20th Amendment in Parliament as soon as possible.

Q: The former Yahapalana government too made an effort to replace the present Constitution. Many months of effort went into it with Parliament converting itself into a Constitutional Assembly. Will you begin from where they stopped or will you start from scratch?

There is no doubt that our approach and theirs will be totally different...People gave the President a two-thirds majority not to continue the thinking of the Yahapalana Government.The people gave him a different mandate altogether.

Q: A day after your appointment as Justice Minister you pledged to bring to book every single person linked to the Easter Sunday carnage. It has already been over a year since the tragedy. How long are we to wait till justice for the victims are served?

As Minister of Justice I can only provide the basic infrastructure facilities and the support, we don’t get involved in the investigations. Of the three arms of the Government, the Judiciary will have complete independence.

No one can interfere and dictate to them.

The other law enforcement authorities conducting the investigations are directly under the President.

Once the investigations are carried out, the Commission report with their findings and conclusions will go to the Attorney General’s Department. No Minister has control over the manner in which the Commission is acting, it is an independent process. The President is personally interested in bringing the offenders to book, no two words about it. He will provide whatever facilities required by the law enforcement authorities to ensure that justice is served.

But as to how long it will take to wrap up the proceedings, naturally I am unable to answer that. It’s a matter for the law enforcement and the Commission.

Q: The critics of your appointment as Justice Minister allege that this case might be swept under the carpet?

The people who make such claims have shown a total lack of knowledge in the system of the country. As the Minister of Justice my powers are very limited, there is nothing I can do arbitrarily. The Minister of Justice cannot get involved in court hearings and investigations.

My focus will be on bringing the much needed reforms to the existing laws, provide infrastructure facilities, modernise the courts and systems and facilitate digitalisation of the processes.

These are baseless allegations, I have been an active lawyer for over 25 years and I respect the independence of the Judiciary. As a Government we will not do anything to interfere with that sovereign right.

Q: In addition to the complete overhaul of the existing Constitution and repealing of the 19th Amendment, what would be your other priorities?

My biggest priority will be to address the laws delays and modernise the system comprehensively to make it efficient and cost effective We will look into this area as soon as possible.

We will get hold of the experts in the field, look at how the systems work in other countries to prevent laws delays and do the right thing so that the public will benefit. It will be a collective approach rather than me imposing on others.

Q: One of the biggest promises of the Government on the election campaign trail is to contain extremism. They assured that incidents like the Easter Sunday attacks will not happen under an SLPP rule. One such promise is to bring in laws to regulate Madarasas. Your comments ?

There are two approaches to contain extremism, one is we should not tolerate or leave room for any form of deviation from law and order. It has to be done through intelligence, law enforcement, etc. There is no issue in this area.

Apart from that we need to win over different communities, it is not always easy to force people to do things without changing their mindset. We need to bring the communities closer to each other. That goes a long way, extremism will have no place when there is no people’s support. As for Madarasas, I am very interested in getting the Madarasas regulated, to make them transparent, more accountable, and that is important in my opinion. The Cabinet will decide as to what should be done.