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​Commission concerned about changes to Code of Criminal Procedure

Graphic: Commission entrance and office sign, Colombo

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has expressed its 'deep concerns' on proposed amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (Special Provisions) Act No 2 of 2013.

In a letter to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Commission said that the proposed legislation "in effect whittles down the rights of detainees in police custody to have unimpeded access to lawyers".

Noting that the objective of the amendment is to provide for the right of an Attorney-at-Law to access a person in police custody, the current amendments set out that 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 Commission stated.

Similarly, the Commission took said it 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 Commission recommended that the government 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's observation is that torture is often used from the point of arrest until the first statement is obtained," the letter stated.

"The government must guarantee the right of all persons deprived of liberty to access legal representation from the commencement of detention in a future constitutional Bill of Rights.

"Such a step should be accompanied by investing in improving police investigation methods. Such combined measures would go a long way in improving Sri Lanka's human rights record."

Full text of the Commission's letter to the Prime Minister

Date: 17 March 2017

Image credits

  1. Commission entrance and office sign, Colombo - APF