Mar 16, Colombo: The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has expressed its 'deep concerns' on the about the proposed amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 2013.
Conveying its concerns in a letter to the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe the HRCSL set out its recommendation to ensure legislative compliance with human rights standards.
The Commission expressed concern regarding the proposed legislation, which according to HRCSL in effect whittles down the rights of detainees in police custody to have unimpeded access to lawyers.
The HRCSL said in the Bill gazetted on 03 March, 2017, to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Act, No. 2 of 2013 the Commission found some provisions in the Bill to be as problematic as the impugned provisions in the previous Bill gazetted on 12 August, 2016.
The Commission pointed out that the bill while stating that the objective of the amendment is to provide for the right of an Attorney-at- Law to access a person in police custody (not the right of a detainee to access a lawyer), nevertheless limits the right of a lawyer to access a detainee held in a police station as such a right is granted "unless such access is prejudicial to the investigation being conducted".
"It is not stipulated who decides on the matter nor does it set out objective criteria upon which such a determination would be made. There is also no right to appeal to a higher authority if access is refused," the HRCSL pointed out.
Similarly, the Commission took exception to the clause which declares that "the right of an Attorney-at-Law, to have access to the police station, and to make representations, shall not affect the investigations that may be conducted in respect of the person being represented".
"If the proposed amendment is premised on police entertaining suspicions about lawyers changing the course of investigations through advice given to their clients, such suspicions cannot be resolved at the expense of the right of a detainee to have access to legal representation," the Commission said.
The HRCSL suggested the government to make long term investments in providing better facilities and training to the police to carry out effective investigations in a manner that does not undermine the rights of detainees. Currently, the police appear to rely heavily on the first statement of a suspect in order to investigate crimes. The Commission said its observation is that torture is often used from the point of arrest until the first statement is obtained.
"In a fair system, justice must be guaranteed both to the victim as well as to the suspect. Natural Justice requires that both parties be given an equal hearing," the Commission wrote.
Full text of the HRCSL letter to the Prime Minister