New initiative to strengthen Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system

17 Jan 2013

image UNDP’s ongoing Equal Access to Justice project supports confidence-building in Sri Lanka’s justice system. A mobile court in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. Photo: UNDP in Sri Lanka.

Colombo, Sri Lanka – The expertise of around 85 officers from the Criminal Division of Sri Lanka’s Attorney General’s Department will be strengthened as part of a training initiative to build trust in the country’s justice system.

Supported by the United Kingdom, the initiative is part of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Equal Access to Justice Project which seeks to address the causes of injustice, such as poverty and greater respect for minority rights, through giving service providers the skills and resources they need to resolve the grievances of vulnerable groups.

Implemented by the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, the training will complement other aspects of the justice project focused on ensuring that vulnerable groups are aware of their legal rights and can access justice redress mechanisms.

Speaking during the launch in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General, the Honourable Palitha Fernando, PC, explained: “People of this country look to the Attorney General’s Department to ensure the perpetrators of crime are held to account. Therefore, it is for that purpose that we have designed this programme, to see that the skills of the State Counsel are further developed, so that they can perform their duties with confidence.”

The High Commissioner of the United Kingdom in Sri Lanka, H. E. John Rankin, said that enhancing the capacity of officials of the Attorney General’s Department can play a key role in further developing the stability of post-conflict Sri Lanka and rebuilding the court structures in the country’s north and east.

“If people, including Sri Lankans and investors, have confidence in the effective application of laws, the ability to prevent impunity and of equality before the law, this will increase the long-term prosperity and stability of Sri Lanka,” the High Commissioner added.

Some 85 officers will receive training from in-house experts at the Attorney General’s Department on numerous themes including the Concept of a Fair Trial, Examination of Witnesses, Effective Prosecution of Cases of Murder, and Effective Prosecution of Cases of Rape, Grave Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment.

UNDP’s Equal Access to Justice Project has been in operation since 2004 with an annual budget of approximately US$1.5 million.

Working with a range of partners – including the Ministry of Justice, the Prisons Department, Registrar General, Judicial Services Commission, Bar Association, Legal Aid Commission and selected non-government organizations – the justice project’s specific niche lies in supporting justice and related systems so that they work for those who are poor and disadvantaged.

UNDP’s Country Director, Ms. Razina Bilgrami, said that UNDP hopes the project can be a key instrument of support to the Government in its implementation of the recommendations included in the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the Plan of Action for the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Recommendations.