Support to Justice Sector Project joins hands with the National Law Week 2023

October 23, 2023
Simplified Law Sinhala booklet published by BASL, supported by JURE

Simplified Law Sinhala booklet published by BASL, supported by JURE

23 October 2023, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The National Law Week, an important annual event organized by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), was held from 25 September to 1 October 2023. Starting with provincial programmes at selected Bars around the country, the ceremonial session took place on 28 September at the Courts Complex in Hulftsdorp, Colombo, with the esteemed presence of high-level attendees including His Lordship the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya PC; Hon. Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, Minister of Justice; Hon. The Attorney General Mr Sanjay Rajaratnam PC, Ms Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka; The President of the BASL Mr Kaushalya Nawaratne; Chairman of the Legal Aid Commission Mr Rohan Sahabandu PC; and Chairman of the Law Week Committee Mr U.R. de Silva PC.

The National Law Week, organised by BASL, is of high significance in the legal calendar of Sri Lanka. It is a week-long programme that aims to promote awareness about the legal profession, educate the public about their legal rights and responsibilities, and foster a better understanding of the law in society. This year, the National Law Week partnered with the Support to Justice Sector Project (JURE), funded by the European Union in Sri Lanka, jointly implemented by UNDP and UNICEF Sri Lanka, and facilitated by the Ministry of Justice.

Speaking on the importance of the event, the Chairman of the Law Week Committee Mr U.R. de Silva of BASL noted, “The National Law Week serves as a platform to promote legal literacy, create awareness about legal issues, and strengthen the legal profession in the country. It plays a vital role in enhancing legal education, fostering public trust in the judiciary, and ensuring access to justice for all”.

Noting the support of the EU-funded initiative, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka Dr Johann Hesse commented, “An efficient and inclusive justice sector is critical for social cohesion. The European Union is funding the JURE project and works with UNDP and UNICEF to promote home-grown reforms and institutions to improve access to justice for all and bring the sector closer to the people”.    

The provincial programmes included the Bars of Batticaloa, Galle, Jaffna, Kandy, Kurunegala, Matara, Ratnapura and Vavuniya as well as several others, and culminated in the official ceremonial session leading to interactive activities held in Colombo. The array of activities included public lectures, seminars, workshops, and panel discussions on different legal topics. Additionally, school children had debating competitions in the regions and were also invited to visit the courts and witness selected court processes. Renowned legal professionals, academics, and experts in various fields of law were invited to share their knowledge and insights with the participants, bringing public institutions and the public closer.

During the National Law Week, free legal aid clinics were conducted, benefiting those who may not have access to legal services due to financial constraints. Access to justice is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of a just society. This initiative, therefore, aims at improving access to legal services, particularly for underserved and marginalized communities.

Notably, making this experience accessible to school children, interested participants were given the opportunity to experience mock trials and special knowledge-sharing sessions catered for children, an important step to realizing every child’s right to justice. 

Commenting on the role of the Support to Justice Sector Project (JURE), Ms Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative, UNDP in Sri Lanka noted, “Promoting access to justice for all is a defining pillar in our work, in particular working with women, children, the poor and persons in vulnerable situations. The lineup of activities of the National Law Week is catalytic, needed, and innovative as they bring the justice system closer to the people who need it most. I would like to sincerely commend the openness of the Bar and members for the initiative as it is very much in alignment with the UN’s vision on people-centred justice.”

Demonstrations of how the day-to-day court processes are conducted so the public can see and learn through experiencing it are vital to bridge the knowledge gap between the justice system and the public’s understanding of its operations. 

A booklet was also published in local languages, by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, to help enhance knowledge of the general public on key laws in the country.

The National Law Week saw the participation of well over 3,500 people over the course of the 7 days it was operational throughout Sri Lanka. The activities and programmes contribute to enriching the legal legacy that is not restricted to the hearings in a court complex but brings the justice system closer to the people who need it most.