A legend in the
Jubilee Anniversary of H. L. de Silva P.C. as an Attorney-at-Law
By Lakshman Kadirgamar P.C., M.P
H L joined the Law Faculty of the
University of Ceylon in 1948. The Faculty was just one year old. The first
intake in 1947 had, among others, R. K. W. (Raja) Goonesekere who, after
graduation, stayed on in the Faculty as a lecturer for about two decades,
later taught law in Nigeria, became Principal of the Law College and is
now a distinguished practitioner and currently Chancellor of the
University of Peradeniya. Ana Seneviratne, who later became Inspector
General of Police, was also in the first batch. Among H L's contemporaries
in the second intake were Felix Dias (before he added Bandaranaike to his
name), the well-known politician, and John de Saram, later Director of the
UN Legal Division who succeeded HL as our Ambassador to the United
The third intake of 1949 included Kenneth
Shinya (who took a first class degree in Law, the only first class for
many years), Abid Esufally, Mahen Vaithianathan, Gilbert Jayasuriya (all
of them no longer with us) and others. The fourth intake in 1950 included,
among others, Ranjit Abeysuriya (later President's Counsel and incumbent
chairman of the National Police Commission) and myself. The faculty was
very small in those far off days. When H L took his law degree in 1951 the
entire group of four intakes that overlapped with him could not have been
much more that fifty.
We had an outstanding group of teachers.
The first Professor of Law was Sir Francis Soertsz, retired senior Judge
of the Supreme Court. Sir Francis, a master of the criminal law, on which
he lectured to us, was an eloquent speaker and a most engaging raconteur.
He came for his lecture in an enormous chauffeur-driven black Buick of
ancient vintage. Always smartly dressed in a double-breasted suit with a
polka-dotted bow tie and a soft felt hat tipped at a jaunty angle, he
entered the classroom swaying slightly (being a friend of Bacchus). He sat
down to mark the attendance register. It was a difficult manoeuvre for
him. He placed the tip of the pencil on the page and slid it along from
name to name as he called out names. If he had lifted the pencil he might
not, with trembling fingers, have got it down again in the correct place.
This painful exercise over he stood up, and then he was a man transformed.
He lectured without a note for well over
an hour in impeccable, cultured English. He hardly ever referred to the
law reports or to specific sections of the Penal and Criminal Procedure
Code. He recalled in vivid detail famous trials in many of which he had
been either counsel or presiding judge in the course of a long legal and
judicial career. Important concepts of criminal law were woven into his
discussion of these trials. He could have been addressing a jury. He
brought the real world - the world of crime - into the classroom. His
lectures were theatre. We were spellbound. What a wonderful introduction
to the living law.
Then, in contrast, we had the young T.
Nadarajah who taught the law of contract, and succeeded Sir Francis as
Professor of Law. He was the epitome of a scholar - hunched, soft spoken
but precise in speech, shy, intensely focused on the law, his writings
characterized by meticulous detail, even his lectures were full of oral
footnotes, author of a classic book on the law of fideicommissum which
took many years to complete as he was the archetypal perfectionist. Mr.
Nadarajah had a brilliant academic career - a double first in the
Cambridge Law Tripos and a first at the U K Bar final examination which
was, and still is, a very rare achievement.
Mr. B. C. Ahlip, who taught the law of
evidence and trusts was a man of few words, shy and somewhat taciturn but
he had a sharp wit; his tart comments on men and matters were a delight.
Mr. H. W. Thambiah, later a Supreme Court
Judge and author of books on the law of Thesawalamai, was a busy
practitioner who lectured part - time on the legal systems of Ceylon. He
was loquacious; his lectures tended to be rambling, but he covered a great
deal of ground. He brought the hustle and bustle of Hulftsdorp into the
classroom; he was always in a hurry to get back to some courtroom.
And, there was the redoubtable Sir Ivor
Jennings, Vice Chancellor of the University, internationally renowned
constitutional lawyer, author of a definitive work on Cabinet Government,
principal draftsman of the Soulbury Constitution, independent Ceylon's
first Constitution. He lectured to the first year students on
constitutional law at College House on Saturday mornings. Chain-smoking
"Three Roses" he held forth without a note for more that two
hours. The sweep of his lectures was breathtaking. He treated us to
glimpses of the back stage negotiations on the Constitution. There was a
touch of drama in his lectures. He once said he leapt out of bed at 4.00
a.m., lit a Three Rose, poured himself a stiff whisky and solved a problem
that had been troubling him all night. Sir Ivor was very proud of his
Constitution. He had high praise for Mr. D. S. Senanayake, for his common
sense and understanding of democratic values of the British sort, and for
the legal acumen of Mr. H. V. Perera K.C., the pre-eminent Ceylonese
lawyer of the time. But he stated his claim forthrightly, that the
Constitution was his. He denigrated the Indian Constitution for being too
rigid. The truth is that Sir Ivor was wholly unfamiliar with written
constitutions since the United Kingdom has never had one. Although the
Soulbury Constitution had stood for 25 years until it was repealed by the
first Republican Constitution of 1972, it was really a failure because it
did not address the important questions that arise in a multi-ethnic,
pluralistic society such as ours. On the other hand, the Indian
Constitution has stood the test of time - over 50 turbulent years of
post-independence history. It has held the Union together against the
odds. Some years after he had left the University of Ceylon to become the
Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Sir Ivor had, apparently, retracted his
harsh opinion of the Indian Constitution in some article he had written.
There was another huge lacuna in Sir
Ivor's exposition of the Soulbury Constitution. He never once mentioned,
to my recollection, the concept of separation of powers. That was because
in British constitutional law, in the absence of a written constitution,
there is no separation of powers between the executive, the legislature
and the judiciary. Some 15 years after the enactment of the Soulbury
Constitution I happened to be seated in the Appeal Court next to Mr. H. V.
Perera Q. C., waiting for my own case to be taken up, when he asked me
whether Jennings had ever mentioned the separation of powers in the
Soulbury Constitution. I said no. Mr. Perera had an appeal from the
judgment of a Bribery Tribunal established by the executive. He had
nothing to say for his client on the facts. He was searching his fertile
mind for a reasonable legal argument - the only hope for his client. When
his case was called he told Justice Sansoni that there was an important
constitutional question in this bribery case and that he would like to
have some time to consider and develop his argument. The case was
postponed. If a lesser advocate had asked for time on that ground he would
have been told to get on with his case. But Mr. Perera was special. If he
said there was an important constitutional question to be argued no judge
would have disagreed.
When I next met him at Hulftsdorp he
again took up the question of the separation of powers in the
Constitution. He said the Constitution had separate chapters dealing with
the powers of the executive, legislature and the judiciary. These were the
"three pillars of the Constitution". When this bribery case was
finally taken up for hearing once again I happened to be in the same
court. I had the good fortune of hearing the great lawyer develop his
fascinating argument. It was upheld; the Bribery Tribunal was declared to
be ultra vires the Constitution; the decision was followed in other cases
and endorsed by the Privy Council in the famous "coup" case
(Queen vs Liyanage). Judicial power - the power to try, convict and punish
- can be exercised only by the established judiciary in whom the judicial
power of the State is vested by the Constitution. It cannot be exercised
by the other organs of State - the executive or the legislature. Thus, it
appeared that Sir Ivor Jennings had not realized that the doctrine of the
separation of powers was embedded in the very Constitution of which he was
the principal draftsman. H V at the height of his career had reached the
point where he could argue cases on first principles without the aid of
judicial precedents and textbook citations. His own collection of Ceylon
New Law Reports stopped at 1942. I first met him in 1960. He used to say
that all the relevant case law had been made before 1942. Today, H L has
the stature, the intellectual confidence and the experience to do
likewise, and he does - argue cases on first principles.
A word about the library of the Law
Faculty. The bulk of it was a bequest from N. Nadarajah K. C, a leading
civil lawyer. It was a magnificent library - a dream for those who wished
to study the law seriously - housed in Sampson's Bungalow at Reid Avenue.
It had complete sets of the law reports of Ceylon, the United Kingdom,
India, South Africa (since Roman - Dutch law was the common law of
Ceylon), other Commonwealth countries, and even some from the United
States of America, in addition to numerous textbooks and legal journals.
I must also say a word about the
It was always a vibrant place, full of
life, laughter and chatter. Every day the effervescent Mervyn de Silva was
found there holding court, scattering around sizzling witticisms for the
entertainment of everyone within earshot. If he had spent more time in the
Library than in the canteen he would surely have got a first class degree
in English, not withstanding his mercurial temperament, such was his
natural brilliance. Romances blossomed in the canteen. Among the couples
who met at the University, and later married, were Felix Dias and Lakshmi
Jayasundere. On racing days (the racecourse was just across the road from
Reid Avenue) the canteen was a hive of activity. Everybody became a
tipster. Money was borrowed and sometimes repaid, sometimes not.
Well, it was in the company of those
teachers and colleagues I have mentioned above, and in the ambience of the
University that I have tried to describe, that H L took his first steps on
the long and difficult road that has led him to the 50th anniversary of
his call to the Bar.
From the Law Faculty H L went to the Law
College to complete the examinations required for admission to the Bar.
And thence to Hulftsdorp to earn his living. He had no legal connections.
Hulftsdorp can be a lonely place for the outsider. Even the great H V
Perera had perforce to hide his light under a bushel for many years until
destiny beckoned although, before the first World War, he had won the
government scholarship to the University of London, and obtained a first
class degree in, and won the Meyer Rothschild Scholarship for,
mathematics. But the waiting time for H L was shorter. He had a friend in
Felix Dias who, in H L's own words, taken from his recent Oration in
memory of Felix, was "heir to a great family tradition that had
lasted for several generations". Felix entered Hulftsdorp with the
proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. The briefs came thick and fast.
Felix helped H L. It was while he was holding one of Felix's briefs in the
Appeal Court that Fortune smiled on H L. This is how it happened.
I had become Justice Gratiaen's Private
Secretary in November 1954 after completing the Advocates Final
Examination. A word about this great Judge will not be out of place. The
post of his Private Secretary was filled by arrangement between the Judge
and Professor Nadarajah.
A more unlikely pair of friends could not
have been found; one, an outgoing, towering six foot four inch, 250 pound
rugger player for the CR & FC and All - Ceylon (I used to refer to him
as Justice in concrete) who had just barely got a degree from Oxford
University; the other, a shy, scholar with brilliant academic credentials
but no sporting achievements whatsoever. But they had great respect for
each other - Nadarajah for Gratiaen's lucid, elegant and masterly
judgements in every branch of the law, and Gratiaen for Nadarajah's deep
scholarship, especially on the intricacies of the law relating to
fideicommissum. The job, for one year between passing the Advocates Final
Examination and enrolment as an Advocate, was a sort of unofficial prize
for someone who obtained a good law degree. The first holder of the job
was Shinya, then myself and next Chris Pinto, later Legal Adviser to the
Foreign Ministry and an acknowledged authority on the Law of the Sea. In
1957 Justice Gratiaen stepped down from the Supreme Court and became Mr.
S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike's Attorney General for two years before leaving
the country to practice before the Privy Council in London with huge
success until he died in 1971.
Justice Gratiaen and Justice E. H. T.
(Theodore) Gunasekera, father of the well known lawyer, S. L. Gunasekera,
often sat together on a Divisional Bench. They were friends. They shared a
puckish sense of humour. Both were fair - minded, thoroughly decent men of
exceptional ability. Justice was safe in their hands. They were kind to
juniors who always hoped their cases would come before them. I used to go
with Justice Gratiaen to his court every day to listen to the arguments.
On one such routine day in 1955 an appeal was taken up in the early
afternoon before him and Justice Gunasekera. It was a land case. H L stood
up and said he was holding Felix's brief for the appellant and that Felix
was held up in another court. In such circumstances Judges usually allowed
the case to stand down so that it could be argued by the retained Counsel.
But on this occasion Justice Gunasekera asked H L to carry on with the
case. My feeling was, knowing the two Judges as well as I did, that they
were really saying - go on, don't worry, we are here, you won't come to
grief. H L started. He had done his homework. Often counsel holding a
brief for another does not read it in the confident expectation that the
case would be postponed. But H L was ready. After about a half hour it was
clear that he was making headway. At the end of his argument H. W. (Harry)
Jayewardene Q. C., a formidable opponent with a commanding appellate
practice, was called upon to reply and had to struggle to stay afloat.
Judgment was reserved, and delivered later. The appeal was allowed. That
afternoon when Justice Gratiaen returned to his chambers he said to me:
"Kadi, who is this chap H. L. de Silva. Do you know him?". I
said I did. "What sort of degree did he get?" "Not one as
good as he should have got. He only got a pass", was my reply.
"Degrees don't matter", said
Justice Gratiaen with the certainty that comes from personal experience.
"He is better on his feet than Felix Dias. Go and ask him whether he
would like to join the Crown" (that is, the Attorney General's
Department). Off I went to look for H L in the Law Library. I found him
and gave him the Judge's message. He was disbelieving. He thought I was
pulling his leg. I told him it was serious. He said he would think about
it. Next morning he told me that he would accept, still a trifle
incredulous. I reported back to Justice Gratiaen. He picked up the
telephone and spoke to Mr. T. S. Fernando Q.C., Solicitor General.
"Sam, I have found a good man for you. His name is H L de Silva. Why
don't you send for him?" Some of the Judges had an understanding with
Mr. T. S. Fernando that they would look out for young lawyers to join the
Department. The rest is history. H L became a Crown Counsel. It did not
take him long to make his mark. The Attorney General's Department is an
excellent training ground for young lawyers because early in their careers
they are entrusted with the conduct of litigation. They are soon, and
often, on their feet and develop courtroom experience much earlier than
their colleagues who go straight to the unofficial Bar.
Speaking of the early fifties I remember
S. J. V. Chelvanayakam Q. C. the founder of the Federal Party, who had a
large civil practice in the original courts, before politics consumed his
time, moving from court to court in the course of a busy day - framing
issues in one court, leading evidence in another, cross - examining a
witness in a third, arguing a short point of law in a fourth and making
closing submissions in a fifth. That is the kind of punishing routine that
a busy original court practice involved. On the criminal side I remember
two scintillating cross-examinations - one by G. G. Ponnambalam Q. C. the
most sought after defence lawyer after the legendary R. L. Pereira K. C.,
of Scotland Yard's Inspector Godsell in the famous Ranjani taxi cab murder
case - the first finger print case in Ceylon. After thoroughly demolishing
Godsell's evidence, G G walked up to him as he was stepping down from the
witness box, took out his solid gold cigarette case and grinning
mischievously offered him a cigarette with the remark "No hard
feelings, Godsell?". The other was Dr. Colvin R de Silva's elaborate,
delicate but devastating cross - examination, in the famous Sathasivam
murder case, of a highly respected witness, Professor Milroy Paul, who had
to be handled with extreme sensitivity in view of his standing in the
profession. Sathasivam, the famous cricketer, was indicted for the murder
of his wife. High society gossip had hanged him from every lamppost in the
city. Justice Gratiaen presided over the trial before a special jury. Dr.
Colvin R de Silva defended him. Satha began the case a villain. The West
Indian cricket team visited him in jail. Upon acquittal he was carried
shoulder high out of court by his supporters - a hero once again. It is
said that Colvin lost his Wellawatte Parliamentary seat because irate
Tamil opinion punished him for securing Satha's acquittal.
One day in the early sixties H L fell
into the Beira Lake. No, no, not because he was "drunk and
disorderly". Certainly not! What happened was that H L, as Crown
Counsel, had gone to the old Secretariat for a consultation with Felix
Dias Bandaranike who was Minister of Finance in Mrs. Sirimavo
Bandaranaike's first government. On his way out, in blinding monsoon rain,
his car fell over the edge of the road that runs alongside the Secretariat
building into the Beira at the basin end. How he got out, whether through
a window or a door, I do not know. Swimming was never one of H L's
accomplishments. But get out he did, Houdini - like. Experience in
wriggling through loopholes in the law might have helped. What an
unspeakable tragedy it would have been had such a promising legal career
perished in the murky waters of the Beira on that rainy day. By the end of
the sixties H L was the star of the Attorney General's Department on the
civil side, leading for the Crown in major writ applications,
constitutional and other civil matters.
H L left the Crown in 1970 and went to
the unofficial Bar. He had already established a reputation as a skillful
advocate. Soon he was in demand in the appellate division of the Supreme
Court in civil matters. At this time the legal arena was full of giants.
H. V. Perera had died in 1969, but the others were there. Among them the
following Queen's Counsel: Norman Weerasooriya, G. G. Ponnambalam, C.
Thiagalingam, E. G. (Guy) Wikramanayake, S. Nadesan, Harry Jayewardene,
George Chitty, P. Navaratnarajah, and that very special person, that great
advocate, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, who never applied to become a Queen's
Counsel on political grounds his opposition to the British Raj. These men
were colourful, charismatic figures, larger than life when I look back
over the years, the fifties, sixties and seventies, when they occupied
centre stage. Various tales of their prowess, wit and ingenuity grew
around them. There was an air of sparkling conviviality in Hulftsdorp in
those days. Cases were fought hard in court, no quarter given, no quarter
asked, but outside the courtroom there was much fellowship and bonhomie.
Counsel travelling to the outstation
courts ended up in the Rest House after the days work, eating and drinking
together. On one such occasion the gigantic Noel Gratiaen was seen walking
to his car with the diminutive Normie Weerasooriya tucked under his arm.
George Chitty was fond of pink Studebakers, changing cars every year, gold
watches and expensive cameras, music, art, and philately. He was well
versed in forensic science, ballistics, surgery and woodwork. George was
known to read his briefs on his feet. Once in a murder appeal he had spent
thee days mainly reading out to the court large chunks of evidence while
he was trying to formulate a winning argument. One of the judges, trying
to stop him, said: "Mr. Chitty, we are in possession of your
argument", the classic judicial strategy for choking off Counsel.
"That cannot be, my Lords, because I have not yet reached it",
came George Chitty's reply. George was unflappable and unstoppable. While
traveling to Nuwara Eliya for a case he started reading his brief at
But after he had cross - examined the
first prosecution witness the case usually collapsed. He was a suave and
deadly cross - examiner, politely devastating. While arguing the appeal in
the famous Kularatne murder case, the presiding Judge asked "You mean
to say that the Judge could have made such an elementary mistake?".
Pat came George's superb reply: "My Lord, no one thinks less of a
Judge because he made a mistake. Nor less of a mistake because it was made
by a Judge". Another Chitty gem was this, quoted by Justice A. R. B.
Amerasinghe in his book on the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. It was a rape
case and Chitty suggested that village damsels were more sophisticated
than some might wish to believe and that there was no question of outrage
of modesty in the case. The judge said the girl was only fourteen and
therefore Counsel's suggestion was unacceptable. George Chitty's reply
was: "While I would most respectfully bow to your Lordships superior
knowledge of the ways of village damsels, yet age per se is not the most
important consideration. Have we forgotten that Juliet had a torrid affair
with Romeo at twelve?. There can be no hard and fast rules in the
matter". A moment's hush. Loud laughter from the Bench. After trying
hard to get a difficult opponent to accept a settlement, finally George
succeeded when his opponent turned to the judge and said: "To that
proposal, your Honour, I cannot say nay". George turning to him
scornfully said: "Certainly not, unless you are a horse".
In those days seniors were liberal with
the drinks in chambers after consultations. C. Thiagalingam had a dog and
a faithful peon, the latter named Panikkar. The dog sat under his master's
table. Thiagalingam often bullied his clients mercilessly in order to get
them ready for cross - examination by the other side. Often he barked at
them. The dog would bark louder. There was pandemonium in chambers,
Panikkar was summoned to restore order. Clients were in tears. Some of
them told their Proctors to withdraw the brief although good money had
already been paid as a retainer. The Proctors would say: "Don't do
that. If he gives you hell in his own chambers, think what he will do to
the other side". True enough when the case started Thiagalingam
invariably gave the other side hell. Thiaga offered a drink to his juniors
from heavy cut glass decanters. But he watched them pour with an eagle
eye. If they poured too much he would shout, in classical Tamil, "Aday"
(meaning hey you, stop, that's enough).
P. Navaratnarajah's chambers after a
consultation often resembled a tavern at closing time. He was generous
with his Black and White. Juniors walked groggily to their cars; the
senior tottered back into his domestic quarters. But next morning the team
was fit and fresh and alert and up to the usual tricks of District Court
practitioners. Sam Kadirgamar and Aelian Kannangara were also generous
dispensers of the Scottish libation.
Hulftsdorp was famous for banter between
Bench and Bar. A pompous judge newly arrived on the Supreme Court Bench
had the temerity to say to the revered H. V. Perera: "Your arguments
are going in through one ear and out through the other". "I
understand, my Lord," said Mr. Perera, "perhaps there is nothing
In the seventies H L was making his way
up the ladder with a growing practice in the Appeal Courts. In the
eighties together with Harry Jayewardene Q. C. and C. Renganathan Q. C. he
had become one of the leaders on the appellate side with a large all -
round civil practice. In 1981 he was appointed a Senior Attorney - at -
Law (later President's Counsel) in the first batch of Silks after the last
Queen's Counsel had been appointed in 1967. In commercial appeals he was
often pitted against K. N. (Kasi) Choksy P. C. the two of them also led
their respective teams in the gruelling election petition that Mrs.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike had brought against President Premadasa after the
1989 Presidential elections.
In the nineties H L had reached the
pinnacle of his career, and he remains there. There is always a scramble,
in the earliest stage of anticipated litigation, to retain him for a
possible appeal. This was reminiscent of the scramble to retain H V Perera
in the fifties and sixties. The question asked then was on which side is H
V. The question asked now is on which side is H L. One day while walking
down a corridor with Colvin I asked him to which court he was going. He
said that while waiting for a case to be taken up in one court he was
going to another because Mr. Perera (as he always referred to him) was
"on his feet" in that court. In recent years I have heard
juniors with time on their hands say "Let's go to court x because H L
is on his feet". At the Bar these are the hallmarks of pre -
In H L's work at the Bar there was a
dimension that was absent from H V's. In H V's heyday human rights
litigation was unknown. H L has shown a strong commitment to the advocacy
of moral issues, the defence of rights and liberties, underpinned by his
deep Protestant faith. H L is a lay preacher. I would say that in recent
years he shares with Dr. Colvin R de Silva and S. Nadesan Q. C. this
admirable quality of fearlessly going to the aid of people in need,
victims of rank injustice.
From 1940, after the famous Bracegirdle
case in which Mr. H. V. Perera took on the British Colonial Government and
won a sensational victory on behalf of an Englishman who had fallen foul
of the State, H V was acknowledged by the Bench and the entire Bar as a
peerless advocate. In 1966 when he reached the 50th anniversary of his
call to the Bar there was a largely attended ceremony at the Grand
Oriental Hotel, overlooking the harbour. I attended it. Glowing tributes
were paid to H V. On his death in 1969 praise of the highest order was
showered on him. Consider what his contemporaries had to say about him. G.
G. Ponnambalam, Q. C., said "with his passing away, a void is created
which I cannot see being filled in the foreseeable future". Dr.
Colvin R. de Silva said: "Ceylon has never lacked able lawyers. We
have often had great lawyers. In my view, H. V. was the greatest of them
all." A. C. M. Ameer, Q. C., said: "If ever there was one who
bestrode the legal world like a colossus it was H. V. He was indeed more
than a man, he was an age." Sir Lalita Rajapakse, Q. C. put it in
this way: "To say that he was an intellectual or learned would be to
underestimate his ability. There is one word that would do him justice.
That is the word 'genius'. He was the brainiest Ceylonese of the century.
Such men are few and rarely are they born." And N. E. Weerasooria, Q.
C., said: "It has been my privilege to see the great lawyers of this
century in action. I can recall the elegance of Bawa, the force of A. St.
V. Jayewardene, the subtlety of E. J. Samerawickreme. Mr. Perera combined
in himself all these qualities and added to them a distinction of his
own." H. W. Jayewardene, Q. C., described H. V. as "the maestro
of Hulftsdorp". E. F. N. Gratiaen, Q. C., who knew him both at the
Bar as a colleague and heard H. V. when Gratiaen served on the Bench said,
"One of the immortals is dead."Members of the Bench shared the
view that H. V. Perera was a most extraordinary lawyer. Chief Justice H.
N. G. Fernando was of the view that "the death of H. V. marked the
end of an era in Hulftsdorp". Chief Justice Abrahams once said that
H. V. would have been "an adornment to any Bar, in any country, in
any age".Chief Justice Sansoni said: "He was what I would call a
lawyer's lawyer. If I may explain this, he never appeared in a trial case,
either in a civil or in a criminal case. He probably never addressed a
Jury. His Court work was confined entirely to the Appeal Court where cases
are decided purely on arguments addressed to the Appeal Judges. Such a
practice provides no opportunities for playing on the emotions; it is
concerned entirely with arguments addressed to the intellect. It calls for
a complete, accurate and profound knowledge of the law in all its
branches; for a mastery of the law and facts involved in the particular
case; for an acute mind and a logical approach to the questions that arise
for decision. It requires an ability to present a clear argument in a
manner which will win the attention of the Judges and convince them of its
correctness. Lastly, but above all, the lawyer in the Appeal Court, as
elsewhere, must have the confidence of the Judges. He must be frank and
honest in everything he says. Mere cleverness will take him nowhere, for
the relationship between the Bench and the Bar is so eminently one of
intimate collaboration where mutual confidence is essential. I say without
hesitation, that throughout his career, the Judges trusted Mr. Perera
completely. They knew that he would never mislead or deceive them on any
question of law or fact and that in every statement he made they could
rely on him to be fair and honest. When you have found a man who is master
of the law, an eloquent speaker with the gift of presenting a case
attractively, a good debater with a razor-sharp intellect, you are on the
way to finding a clever lawyer. But if that man also has, as Mr. Perera
had, the moral qualities of honesty and fairness which will win for him
the entire confidence of the Judges and his opponents, you have found the
great lawyer. And this is precisely what he was." (quotation from the
History of the Supreme Court).For someone of my generation the making of a
comparison between H V and H L is inevitable, whether it is fair to do so
or not. That is why I have referred so extensively to H V Perera. H L is
also a lawyers lawyer. He too has the qualities of honesty and fairness
that have won for him the trust and confidence of the Bench. He too is
"a master of the law, an eloquent speaker with the gift of presenting
a case attractively, a good debater with a razor sharp intellect".
I would say that at
this stage of his career, H. L. de Silva is the worthy heir to the mantle
of H V Perera with the full acceptance of the Bench, the Bar and the
public. That is the highest tribute, a well deserved one, in my opinion,
that I can pay to H L on the 50th anniversary of his call to the Bar.
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Date: September 25, 2003