| by A Special Correspondent
( November 8, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In the breaking hours of 3 November 2014 Sri Lanka lost a most illustrious lawyer and judicial officer. Gamini Abeyratne passed away after having served the judiciary and his country for over four decades. Amnesty International put it best when it commented on the decision handed down by Gamini in the Krisanthi Kumaraswamy case which he heard at trial at bar: "For too long the security forces have been literally allowed to get away with murder. We hope this will be a decisive turning point in breaking the cycle of impunity. We hope that the judgement will contribute to a full restoration of accountability for human rights violations."
As a judge of the various courts of Sri Lanka he served, Gamini believed in justice being the right thing to do by those aggrieved who came before him. His judgments were a catharsis of truth and compassion. They resonated the fundamental truth of social justice that without truth, justice cannot prevail, and without respect and compassion, morality cannot prevail. At the end of the day, his judicial thinking reflected that social justice is about respect for human rights and dignity and that a government’s authority came from the will of the people.
The philosophy of Gamini's judgments were based on his belief that the basic and most sacrosanct duty of a judge is to interpret or declare the law and not to make it or initiate it. Ringleaders who performed outrage against society and committed acts of thuggery were given maximum penalties prescribed by the law and the innocent were vindicated under his gavel.
As Mervyn de Silva said at the passing of a distinguished Sri Lankan: "Not all the tears which are shed today nor all the hosannas are of much use to us unless we pluck from his own life, from the nettle of things said, done and half-done, of achievements and failures, some flower, some meaning, something which can endure”. This is as it should be: not an expression of personal loss, but an overall recognition of the worth to society of the departed human being.
The flower Gamini left behind from the nettle of things he said and did was his abiding loyalty to the Independence of the judiciary and the rights of the individual. He should have ended his career at the International Court of Justice which has time and time again reiterated its belief in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or political belief, and in their inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which they live. He consistently strived to promote in each segment of society he served in his judicial capacity the guarantees for personal freedom under the law that is the common heritage of every Sri Lankan. He believed steadfastly in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief, and in the individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives.
He saw through the charlatan who donned a robe surreptitiously to acquire someone else's land in the night by erecting a religious icon at midnight; he rid a whole city run by a local mafia who collected "kappam" from struggling entrepreneurs; he ordered maximum penalties for proven rapists for committing rape and punished cheats and fraudsters; thugs and vagabonds who terrorized innocent local villagers.
Gamini truly left an indelible mark on society and an enduring legacy that will be objectively recognized by his countrymen. His judicial legacy is a harmonious blend of empathy and compassion mixed with the inevitable elements of law and justice; equity and compassion.
He had a clear understanding of what is moral and the right thing to do. He acted categorically and not consequentially. His judgments reflect that the moral worth of judicial decisions must be unconditionally and universally acceptable as being for the good of the people. His approach to justice was that an effective judicial system must apply the universal and categorical principle of the dignity and freedom of every individual. He did not treat the individual as a means but considered him an end. He believed that overall public interest in good governance is now a common feature in the modern state, and is not restricted to the academics and practitioners who bore the burden of evaluating governance in the past. Similarly, he believed that an empirical demonstration of justice is now a compelling need that could provide the necessary tools for the public to develop their own desired models of society which are capable of delivering equity that accord with their expectations.
His Lordship will stand among the pillars of justice as one who subscribed to Einstein's theory, that there is nothing right or wrong in our life, but what works and what doesn't work.