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Editor discharged from contempt of court charges

The issue of correcting errors in a news report should not be confused with the issue of contempt of court. There are many forums for the correction of errors in a news report that are available to any aggrieved party. Contempt of court is a special jurisdiction which relates to any matter which deals with an attempt to bring the courts into disrepute.

(August 26, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) On the 25th August, the Supreme Court discharged the editor of the Lanka Irida newspaper, Chandana Sirimalwatte from charges of contempt of court. Earlier he had been given notice of the issue of a rule against him for a publication. However, the court did not issue this rule and instead discharged him of the charge.

In reply to the charges made against him the editor of Lanka Irida through his lawyers took up the objection that he was not guilty and his plea was based on the fact that none of the statements made by him in his article constituted contempt of court. In fact, the lawyers stated to the court that the publication was complimentary of the Magistrate of Colombo for rejecting a letter written by the Presidential Secretariat to the court. The lawyers also took up the objection that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the consideration of this application and that, in fact, the correct court for the consideration of this would have been the Court of Appeal.

The Attorney General in the reply to the objections of the lawyers stated that although there is no reference to the Supreme Court in the article there is a reference to the Judicial Service Commission and that any reference to this Commission would constitute contempt of court.

At that stage the court re-fixed the case for hearing of submissions of Mr. Shibiy Aziz PC, as the President of the Bar Association. The Supreme Court took the unusual step of requesting the President of the Bar Association to make submissions on this issue on this occasion.

However, when the case was called yesterday, (25th) the Court allowed an earlier application by the lawyers for a correction in the article and the accused was discharged from the proceedings.
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Earlier the Sri Lanka Guardian clearly pointed out that the report referred to in the notice of the rule being issued did not constitute any wording that could constitute contempt of court. We reproduced below the complete article.

Sinhala wording does not constitute contempt of court

If court has any doubt, the advice of a linguist must be sought the get the meaning of the wording.

(July 27, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is a case against Editor of "Irida Lanka", Chandana Sirimalwatte for publishing following wording in his paper. "Allas sekakaruta newatha sevaya labadenna Janadipathigen Adhikaranayaka Balapem". He is charged for contempt of court.

In examining the wording, it becomes clear that the wording does not imply any wrong done by the courts. It only states that "the president pressures the court to release a suspect of bribery". It does not convey any meaning that court has done any act at all, right or wrong. It is the president who is said to have caused the "Balapema". Therefore, the author has not said anything against the court. He has not said that court has given into the "Balapema".

If at all it is the president that has been impliedly criticized for bringing "Balapama". If president thinks that this wording hurts him, then president can take appropriate action on that. That is not a matter for the court to take notice.

If court has any doubt, the advice of a linguist must be sought the get the meaning of the wording.

On the simple reading of the wording, it is clear that the wording does not in any way constitute any kind of contempt Of court. The editor has pleaded "not Guilty" to the charge.

The issue of correcting errors in a news report should not be confused with the issue of contempt of court. There are many forums for the correction of errors in a news report that are available to any aggrieved party. Contempt of court is a special jurisdiction which relates to any matter which deals with an attempt to bring the courts into disrepute. The position of the defense in this case was that no such attempts were demonstrated by the article in question.

Sri Lanka does not have a contempt of court law. The United Nations Human Rights Committee on two occasions has pointed out this issue and requested the Sri Lankan government to make such laws speedily in order to avoid to protect the citizens of the country. On these occasions the Committee found that the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka had violated the rights of the citizens in making orders against them for imprisonment in those two cases. The Human Rights Committee ordered the Sri Lankan government to pay compensation to the victims.

There have been many requests for the making of a contempt of court law in Sri Lanka and the Bar Association submitted a draft law on this matter. However, there has been no action by the government to promulgate this law. The Asian Human Rights Commission initiated an online petition requesting the government to expedite this matter.

-Asian Human Rights Commission

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