‘I am hell-bent on revamping AG’s Department’ says Dappula de Livera
Posted on May 25th, 2019

Courtesy The Island


Dappula de Livera

As the Attorney General’s Department of Sri Lanka marks its 135 illustrious years, Dappula de Livera, PC takes over its reins as the 30th Attorney General of Sri Lanka.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Island, the legal bigwig who calls himself a ‘self-made man, priding himself on hard work’ explains how he plans to enable his institution to cater to the evolving legal needs of the time.

by Randima Attygalle

Q: Today, you occupy the hot seat of the Attorney General’s (AG’s) Department. How would you recap your eventful journey to date?

A: I feel a great sense of achievement. It has been a long journey of hard work and maintaining high standards in terms of integrity, honesty and independence. I attribute these tenets to my father, who thrived in them as a public servant of the old school. He had a long career in the government service and I closely followed his profession and always admired him as a man of integrity. He was my idol and my values are built on his conduct and behaviour as a public servant. I have a very strong uncompromising attitude and I have done my job according to the law and intend to maintain the same in the future.

Q: What about your school days and your formative years as a State Counsel?

A: I had my primary education at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo and my secondary education at St. Anthony’s College, Kandy. Both these institutions championed a strict regime of discipline which stood in good stead I should say.

I was admitted to the Bar in 1984 and joined the AG’s Department in mid-1985; I came under the wings of Shivakumaran Pasupati, PC, one-time Attorney General. I have served under several AGs and it had been a tremendous experience. Added to it was my exposure to several high courts across the country, which helped develop not only my advocacy skills but also my language skills. As an appellate counsel, I enjoyed what I did and I believe I made a mark in the appellate forum.

I had very tough judges before whom I appeared. Their sense of high discipline and attention to detail brought the best out of me. I take pride in the fact that I am a self-made man. I learnt through hard work and also by being conscious of the fact that I had to develop myself and build a reputation unique to me and my own style of advocacy. I believe it has paid its dividends.

Q: The recent Bond Scam case placed you in the media spotlight. How challenging was your engagement?

A: In terms of my engagement, I think the work I did with the Bond Commission really stands out. There was a mandate in terms of reference and getting through to the bottom of it was very complex, thus we had to strategize and plan for certain goals and objectives. We were faced with a lot of unwilling parties and had to work through different strategies and the interviews we had were very challenging because witnesses were very unwilling to divulge the details for different reasons.

We were also chartering the unknown waters. In terms of leading mobile phone evidence, it was a crucial breakthrough and that revealed a different dimension to the whole scam.

The outcome was very satisfying because we achieved quite a lot in terms of revealing the fraud and we were able to get to the bottom of it with a lot of effort, but I would have certainly preferred a little more time because we came to a point where we were moving into a different arena. I had a relentless attitude and we were interested in revealing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and in achieving it, I don’t think we left any stone unturned. I had a fully committed team of ten counsel of varied seniority and different expertise. They assisted me fully to achieve what we achieved.

Q: Apart from the Bond scam any other notable engagements you would like to recollect?

A: Another outstanding experience was my involvement in a Commission on Law and Order in early 2000, chaired by the former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Wadugodapitiya. I was the lead counsel and I led evidence to unearth the issues which were impacting adversely on law and order situation of the country at the time.

Q: How do you perceive the ‘generation gap’ at the time you joined the profession and that at present?

A: I think the present generation has issues with language, knowledge and ethics. There is a lot of learning to be done and they need to be more patient and cannot be over ambitious. It is disheartening that the profession lacks fully fledged young lawyers. Most of the young attorneys do not read legal literature and other material to upgrade their knowledge.

In my capacity as the Solicitor General and now as the Attorney General, I have been striving to inculcate in our young State Counsel the necessity to build an identity for themselves in the profession. They need to be mindful of the fact that they are in the public eye and building up an identity as a counsel is imperative.

A sense of competence and capacity has to be demonstrated because the public should have confidence in us when they see us in open courts. If we as officers of the AG’s Department cannot command that respect and match up to the expectations of the public and deliver, then we are a failure. I always encourage the officers to develop their language, communication and advocacy skills.

Moreover, they need to have a vision and a mission. They need to be mindful that while being eager to achieve quantity, they need to ensure quality which cannot be compromised. Quality can be achieved only through professionalism coupled with a zest to learn and develop and achieve competency.

Q: How do you think our legal education can be revamped to bridge this gap?

A: Sri Lanka Law College has a pivotal role to play and as a member of the Council for Legal Education, I am aware that a lot of work is being done to improve the standards of legal education. We have taken stock of the deficiencies in the system and address them so that the young lawyer is able to stand up on his/her feet and face the challenges of the new global order.

Q: As the Attorney General, how challenging it is to uphold the autonomy of the AG’s Department, given the political culture of the country?

A: As officers of the state, we have to apply the law of the country in whatever we do and as long as we act according to the law, we have nothing to fear. Your independence would come by acting according to law and the procedure established by the law based on the evidence. This is the direction I give all my officers. So it is a very simple formula – as long as you apply the law equally, there is nothing to fear.

The due process is what we are all looking for from the courts and from institutions which are mandated to administer the law. Procedure established by law should be strictly followed and if you cannot enforce due process then you cannot uphold the rule of law – this applies to our Department as well.

At the moment, public confidence in the rule of law is lost and a fear psychosis is now prevalent among the public. Law and order is in crisis and public security and national security have become issues. Hence, it is important that all institutions involved in the administration of justice strictly uphold the rule of law and thereby ensure equality.

Q: What would be the mandate of the AG’s Department in this crisis situation following the recent episodes of violence in ensuring that justice is delivered to aggrieved parties?

A: The violence the country experienced on Easter Sunday is unprecedented. The ripples of horror are still very much alive in the hearts and minds of people. We have to send a strong message to criminals as these crimes were so outrageous and put the country in a situation of unprecedented shock and dismay.

We have to deal with the responsible parties expeditiously and in the most stringent manner for multiple reasons: firstly to serve as a warning and deterrent to any potential offender and deter society and secondly to punish the guilty and most importantly to deliver justice to those who were wronged.

A dedicated team of our officers has already been appointed to advise the law enforcement authorities in the investigative stage. Once investigations are completed, we need to look at evidence and press charges to bring the cases to trial as expeditiously as possible.

Q: Can you throw light on any new measures that you intend to take to clear the backlog of cases?

A: In terms of criminal cases, we have introduced file disposal workshops running practically every week where all our officers and supervising officers get together and deal with old files and clear them on a systematic basis having regard to the geographical area and the subject area. Our officers come on Saturdays and devote their time to this exercise and we have reduced the backlog to a large extent.

Another step is the time frame placed on the new files. In the past, we concentrated on old files and the new files kept on building up. From this month onwards, every new file has to be concluded within three months so that they don’t add on to the existing file backlog. This is a two-pronged course of action for clearing both the old and new files.

In terms of new recruitments, 50 new officers are already on board and before December this year, another 70 state counsel will be recruited. With the new manpower will expedite the clearing of the backlog.

Q: What other measures are in the pipeline to give more muscle to the various Units of the AG’s Department?

A: While revamping certain existing Units such as the Child Protection Unit for example, several Units which are to fill long-felt needs are being formed and launched. The Child Protection Unit is being revamped and it will come under the direct supervision of the Solicitor General.

In addition, with the assistance from the UNICEF and the Asia Foundation, several new recruitments have been made to this child protection unit and a rapid file disposal programme is about to be launched.

The International Legal Affairs Division, which was set up last week, is another long-felt need. This Unit will be mandated to deal with all international legal affairs such as international agreements, treaties, reciprocity requests, foreign loans, international arbitration, mutual legal assistance, extradition and all matters pertaining to UN agencies and requests from foreign missions. This Unit will have a direct link to the Foreign Ministry and The External Resources Department and all other government institutions which have international legal work.

A Bills Division is also set up where all draft legislation will be dealt with. This will help counter the delay in issuing certification on the constitutionality of drafted legislation by the AG’s Department. The Corporation Division is being streamlined under a new Head to enable a better service to government corporations and other institutions.

With the assistance of the US Government, a Training and Development Centre will also be established in a few months. This will facilitate in-house training and capacity building of our cadres as well as officers from other government institutions.

We are developing an electronic diary for the department which can be accessed by all officers from anywhere in the country. This mechanism will provide easy access to day-to-day legal affairs from wherever the officers are stationed. All these are initiatives answer the call of the public who are waiting for justice to be dispensed and done.

Q: As an officer who has been very vocal on the issue of money-laundering, how do you propose that more teeth is given to fight this?

A: Our legislative framework on money laundering is quite sound. What is important to realize is that money laundering and drug trafficking go hand-in-hand. The Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) while investigating narcotics crimes should simultaneously investigate money laundering because all over the world it is proven that money laundering and drug trafficking are interlinked.

Right now the drug offenders are not investigated for money laundering which is a lapse on the part of our investigative mechanism. The law enforcement agencies should also have more dedicated manpower to deal with these areas. The Financial Intelligent Unit of the Central Bank should also provide necessary required.

We cannot be satisfied with the quantum of support rendered here by this Unit. Hence, money laundering is an area that should be taken stock of holistically.

Q: The proposed Counter Terrorism Act has led to a lot of controversy. What are your views on this proposed legislation?

A: At this juncture I prefer not to comment on it in detail, but I have voiced certain reservations about it.

Q: Finally what are your thoughts on the level of legal literacy among Sri Lankans?

A: Our people are more conscious of their legal rights now as they are very media-savvy, today. However, more can be done in this area which however is a policy matter the government needs to address and initiate. In this process, if the AG’s Department is called upon to assist, we are ready to provide the required assistance without hesitation, but I must reiterate that it is a call of the government.

The media has also played a very decisive role in generating public interest in the citizens legal rights which is a very positive stride and it should continue to do so.

One Response to “‘I am hell-bent on revamping AG’s Department’ says Dappula de Livera”

  1. Hiranthe Says:

    Good luck Mr Livera.

    We saw your honest efforts during the Bond Scam investigation. But fortunately or unfortunately you did not get the chance to question the Master Mind of the scam, Batalande Run-nil.

    Hope you can continue your honest work to look after Mother Lanka

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