May 29, 2015, 6:53 pm
People took to the streets in Kahawatte in their numbers on Thursday against the acquittal of all three accused in the Kotakethana double murder case. The Colombo High Court held that the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against the accused.
Protesters, in high dudgeon, blocked roads, demanding justice. Their consternation is understandable. They are troubled by a wave of unsolved crimes in their area. The police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse them as they turned aggressive and brought vehicular traffic to a standstill.
When public protests in Jaffna against the rape and murder of a schoolgirl exploded into riots of sorts the other day it was claimed in some quarters that the LTTE rump had a hand in them. We argued in these columns that people all over the country reacted in a similar manner to situations where they thought they were denied justice because over the past so many years there had been a severe erosion of public faith in the police and the judicial process.
The northern demonstrators condemned lapses on the part of the police who had released one suspect initially. Fearing that the killers would beat the rap, they were all out to lynch the killers of the schoolgirl. No sooner had the situation been brought under control in Jaffna than the people of Kahawatte attacked the police with stones.
Following the Jaffna mayhem, President Maithripala Sirisena lost no time in flying to the North and promising the family of the victim a speedy trial. That gesture needs to be appreciated in that it will hopefully help restore the faith of the people in the justice dispensation system in the former war zone. However, it looks as if the President had to act in a similar manner to reassure the people demanding justice in other parts of the country as well, especially in Kahawatte.
The government had better bear in mind that the conviction rate is as low as four percent in this country which is becoming a criminals’ paradise; something needs to be done urgently to remedy the situation. The police and the public and state prosecutors are notorious for botching up cases. Now that the accused in the Kotakethana double murder case have been set free, the onus is on the government to find out who actually committed that heinous crime as well as other murders in the area and see to it that justice is done expeditiously. The people in and around Kahawatte are living eternal fear of being harmed; they are likely to stage street protests again.
Sadly, the police and the judiciary move at full tilt only when they are spurred on by politicians in power. Special investigation units are cobbled up in record time to conduct probes hurriedly. And, courts are kept open as late as 9.00 pm to remand suspects as former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has said recently. There was also an occasion when a court was opened on a Poya Day for the sole purpose of enlarging a suspect on bail! If this high octane performance of the judiciary can be maintained all backlog of cases will be cleared in next to no time and Sri Lankan judiciary will be the most efficient in the world.
The biggest challenge before the next government to be elected shortly will be to ensure that the police pull their socks up and conduct their crime busting ops efficiently and state prosecutors get their act together. That is the only way to prevent the country from sliding towards anarchy with the people taking the law into their own hands.