Inaugural oration at the KC Kamalasabeyson Memorial Lecture - Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

Inaugural oration at the KC Kamalasabeyson Memorial Lecture, by Minister of Justice of Sri Lanka and Leader, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem, Attorney at Law, LLM (Col).

When the members of the Kamalasabeyson Foundation invited me to preside over the fifth K C Kamalasabeyson Momorial Lecture, I accepted the invitation without any hesitation knowing very well that I would be in the last stages of a grueling election campaign far away from Colombo.  However, the admiration and respect I have for my beloved teacher prompted me to be here sacrificing the limited time available for me to finalise preparation for the Election Day that is tomorrow.

I am here today because I had the great privilege of being a student of the late K C Kamalasabeyson, President Counsel and Attorney General of Sri Lanka.

I am also happy to note that the memorial lecture for this year would be delivered by the present Attorney General, the ever genial Palitha Fernando.

Late Mr. Kamalasabeyson was my teacher at the Law College and also my friend and guide whenever I sought his advice.  I describe him as my teacher not merely because he was my lecturer at Law College. I consider him my teacher for two good reasons. First, is that he left a lasting influence on me as to how to approach an issue, a problem , a decision  in a manner that took into account the different perspectives that were available and not necessarily the most convenient or the obvious. Secondly, he was a guide and a concerned friend.  I would like to think, and I think I am right in saying that I was his favorite student of my batch in those years when the ‘Law’ was a territory that had to be explored and conquered.

That brings me to another facet of the late Kamalasabayson. He rose to the heights of the legal profession as Attorney General having joined the Attorney General’s Department in the 1974. During his distinguished career, spanning  more than 33 years, Mr Kamalasabayson represented the State with aplomb whether it was in courts of law in Sri Lanka or in many an international fora. Yet he was always the legal scholar and student of law who was in quest of new frontiers. That thirst for knowledge and discovery never quenched. He was the eternal student of law and I should say of the human kind.

I would not say that he was passionate about law. Instead, I say that he was extremely enthusiastic about law. I make this distinction with a purpose. It explains the professional values that he exemplified.

“The Law is reason free from passion” said Aristotle.   In the true Aristotelian sense, he was guided by reason not passion. The man, in whose memory we are gathered here today was indeed dispassionate in the application and interpretation of the law.

“Nothing great, is created without enthusiasm.” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. That again is true with regard to my Teacher the Late Kamalasabayson.  Enthusiasm in his profession explains his devotion to his responsibilities in the official bar. It was his enthusiasm that explains the loyalty to the highest standards of his profession and the caring for what the ultimate design of the law – Justice.

It is this fascination with the law that made him absorbed in his work. It made his focus on the law exceptionally sharp. I recall how he taught us the scope and purpose of the first six amendments to the 1978 Constitution. As students of law we were absorbed in detailed discussions with him regarding the merits and demerits of the sixth amendment to the Constitution which was rushed through Parliament within two weeks after the now infamous 1983 July riots.

Within a month of enactment the sixth amendment to the Constitution dealt a disastrous blow on the judges of superior courts. For the first time in the annals of the judiciary superior courts and chambers of the judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were locked out and police armed guards were placed to prevent the judges from entering their chambers. Also, for the first time superior courts did not function for a whole week as the State considered that the judges had ceased to hold office.

I do not think it is necessary to explain the sixth amendment in detail now. However, I am sure all distinguished invitees present here today are familiar with the circumstances in which this piece of legislation was drafted, introduced and passed in Parliament.  During that time, it was rumoured that the amendments were drafted overnight by late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali and the then Legal Draftsman Nalin Abeysekera.

It is in this context Mr. Kamalasabayson took time with his students to discuss in detail the legal and political consequences of the sixth amendment as a teacher of law in a free and frank manner notwithstanding that he was an employee of the State. He explained that this piece of constitutional law, that on the face of it was a clear restriction of what is generally accepted as a fundamental tenant of democracy. The expression of political opinions, the freedom to persuade others of the merits of such opinions, to voice them in Parliament, and to give effect to them in the form of legislative enactments is fundamental to a parliamentary democracy. The intention of the legislature with the sixth amendment he said was to reframe that fundamental proposition in a manner that prohibited the advocacy of separatism. Mr. Kamalasabayson explained the sixth amendment with a detached precision that betrayed neither endorsement nor rejection. To this day, I am not sure whether his lucid exposition of the sixth amendment was juristic or sardonic.

However, the posthumous publication of his essay on Devolution of Powers- the Sri Lankan Experience provides us with some guide to his thinking. On the 1978 constitution itself he writes “An assessment of the political and social upheavals after 1978 will demonstrate that the 1978 Constitution neither measured up to the aspirations of the people nor contributed towards progress.”

On the thirteenth Amendment he says, “…It has drastically altered the constitutional structure and left behind a set of laws, which if properly applied, would enable the two ethnic communities to create an atmosphere for peace in the country”.

His views on law were essentially in consonance with the Aristotelian dictum of reason superseding passion. Perhaps, his laid back nature gave it a sardonic appearance.

He was by nature generous. Generosity is another quality of a great lawyer. The late Kamalasabayson was generous with his time, wisdom and above all patience. I have never seen him impatient to listen, to ponder and to debate. In search of a principle, a precedent or a policy he would walk not the extra mile but the distance it takes no matter how far.

He was also a man of steely courage that was elegantly hidden beneath his gentle demeanor. It was his courage that always plodded him to challenge himself in seeking the path less trekked- the road less travelled. As someone observed, I do not recall exactly who I should attribute this truism, such men of courage by habit drive themselves to the steepest learning curve.  Those present here today who knew the Late Kandapper Chinniah Kamalasabayson would know how steep his learning curve was.

It was this capacity to learn and to teach others that made him stand tall amongst his peers and made him appear a gentle giant to his pupils at the Law College.