National Law Week 2023

Remarks of the Resident Representative, UNDP Sri Lanka

October 2, 2023
Representative speaking at the event

Ms. Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative, UNDP Sri Lanka addressing the gathering

UNDP Sri Lanka

*Check against delivery 

Your Lordship, the Chief Justice, Hon Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC 

Minister of Justice Hon. Dr. Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, PC, M.P; 

Attorney General Mr. Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC; 

President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka Mr. Kaushalya Nawaratne,AAL

Chairman of the National Law Week Mr. U R De Silva, PC,

distinguished guests, 

ladies and gentlemen, 

Good morning to you all!

It is a pleasure to be here with you all as we mark the 2023 National Law Week in Sri Lanka. As the annual National Law Week is a significant event to celebrate and promote the importance of law and justice in Sri Lanka, we are deeply honoured to be a partner. 

And I believe this year’s event carries extra significance in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of cascading challenges that the country has faced over the recent years. 

I was at the opening of the Commercial Mediation Symposium a few days ago where I was once again reminded of the importance of the justice sector in facilitating an ecosystem that is conducive to attract much-needed investments, trades, and businesses overall. The role played by the Bar and legal professionals at large has become even more critical in ensuring sustainable, fair, and inclusive development through timely and affordable resolve of disputes. 

A strong private bar is an important pre-requisite for democracy in any country as there is a need for checks and balances for a healthy of democracy. The role played in this regard by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) cannot be over emphasised. 

Access to justice is a fundamental human right and a cornerstone of a just society. This initiative aimed at improving access to legal services, particularly for underserved and marginalized communities is an applaudable initiative. 

It goes without saying that the bar plays an important role in facilitating a just and sustainable recovery from the current economic crisis. The cascading crisis globally and here in Sri Lanka have led to hardships for many, and those with limited means are left furthest behind. This means many are struggling to have their ends meet and when confronted with disputes, they have no means to seek justice. 

I am particularly impressed by a key activity of the National Law Week, the legal aid clinics which are free of charge today and tomorrow at this premises.

The UNDP and Oxford University recently launched a report on Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index in the post pandemic and economic crisis period. The highest contributor to the vulnerability in the Sri Lankan society is related to household debt. 33 percent of the population experience vulnerability and deprivation in debt-related indicators including getting debt for essential needs as well as pawning jewellery or selling items. In light of the economic hardships, monetary disputes will rise, and people’s ability to seek fair justice will be diminished. The support provided by the Legal Aid Commission to nearly 170,000 (169,215) indigent clients in 2022 (through its centres island-wide) is testament to the vast demand by persons seeking legal assistance. 

Studies also show that violence at home against women and children rise during stressful crisis. The justice sector and legal professions play a life saving role in ensuring the protection of rights of the people. In particular, women and children with disability are subject to greater risks of becoming victims. Disability inclusion must be given paramount importance within the agenda of leaving no-one behind. Inclusive legislative and policy reform, implementation and monitoring shall be a long-term investment towards strengthening public trust and confidence.

Access to justice for all means that justice needs to be age appropriate. Child-friendly legal aid is an essential element of legal aid services. Ensuring that children have access to legal education, legal advice and representation is an important part of the JURE programme, so making this experience accessible and available to school children, as a part of the law week, is timely and greatly appreciated.

Timely dispensation of justice is also a cornerstone of strong democratic governance. It contributes to strengthening the social contract and instilling public trust in the system. Statistics that record a total of over 127,000 cases pending before Courts as of 31st December 2022 underscore the urgency to enhance efficacy through innovative and modernized solutions, including digital ones. UNDP has engaged with countries (including common law countries) across the globe in developing such solutions to ensure people-centric approaches to justice delivery and we look forward to exploring such opportunities here in Sri Lanka.

Having 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 public’s understanding of its operations. UNDP’s global study on legal aid reveals that many, especially the under educated, are often intimidated by the formal court proceedings and the idea of experiencing them due to lack of knowledge and exposures. In many countries around the world, we have supported mock-courts to ensure that those going through the system are able to with confidence go through the process. 

I am also encouraged to hear that the law week will also serve as a useful platform to raise public awareness on laws, procedures and practices. Often the complex legal terminology and procedures overwhelm and intimidate the mass public and discourage them from accessing justice. Raising awareness on newly enacted legislation using simplified language through the legal stalls lined up for the event is a critical step towards strengthening equal access to justice.

This line up of activities is catalytic, needed, and innovative as they bring the justice systems 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. 

In this regard, UNDP is pleased to support the National Law Week under its ‘Support to the Justice Sector Project - JURE’ funded by the European Union and which is jointly implemented by UNDP and UNICEF Sri Lanka, facilitated by the Ministry of Justice.

This 4-and-a-half-year project partners with key justice sector government institutions, supporting efforts to strengthen the justice system in Sri Lanka, to deliver equitable, accountable and independent services to all.

Guided by international best practices and norms, the project intends to make an impact on policy, capacity and service delivery of the justice sector, while working to improve access to justice, accountability and transparency and improved efficiency and quality in the justice sector. 

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. Data management relevant to the justice sector, increasing capacities of different justice sector actors to develop codes of conduct and ethical practices, efficient and age-appropriate child justice services for every child, digital solutions to the justice sector and strengthening commercial and alternative dispute resolution, and other multiple interventions will be tackled working together with our wide stakeholders and on-the-ground partners. Our work with the Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s Department, Judiciary, National Authority for the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses, Judicial Medical Service, Government Analyst’s Department, Legal Draftsman’s Department, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs etc encapsulates the above aspects under the project.

At this crucial juncture when the world marks the halfway point to achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Support to Justice Sector Project focuses on aligning with targets and goals set out through Goal 16, on achieving peace, justice, and strong institutions. 

Ahead of the recently concluded UN’s historic SDG Summit which took place on the margin of the UN General Assembly in New York, UNDP Sri Lanka concluded an AI-generated research to identify the most catalytic targets that will accelerate the attainment of all other Sustainable Development Goals. The Target on accountable and responsible institutions under Goal 16 emerged clearly as the single most catalytic target that is needed for Sri Lanka to attain SDGs. The justice sector institutions play, without doubt, a critical role in nurturing the culture of transparency and accountability that is a required foundation for achieving sustainable development. UNDP is ready to leverage its SDG integrator role to support the sector develop sustainable data platforms that assist Sri Lanka track its progress on SDG16 indicators.

Let me congratulate the Bar Association of Sri Lanka for a timely intervention that contributes to our common goal in ensuring access to justice for all. It is our true privilege to have a fruitful partnership with the Bar Association. 

On behalf of UNDP and UNICEF, let me wish you a fruitful National Law Week. 

Thank you.