The Supreme Court today commenced hearing the Special Determination petitions filed challenging the constitutionality of the Bill titled “Contempt of a Court, Tribunal, or Institution”.

The bill is titled “Contempt of a Court, Tribunal, or Institution.”

was placed on the Order Paper of the Parliament on July 18, 2023.

Colombo Law Faculty Lecturer Visakesha Chandrasekeram, Attorney-at-Law Basil Fernando, Kingsley Karunaratne, President and Secretary of the Colombo Law Society, Sanjeewa Dassanayake, and Sandun Nagahawatta filed these petitions, naming the Attorney General as respondents.

The Petitioners stated that the Bill seeks to amend Article 105 of the Constitution without complying with the procedure set out in Article 82. The petitioners maintained that the constitution is the supreme law of the country, and thereby no statute can override the provisions of the supreme law.

The Petitioners further stated that this Bill has been formulated to provide for the uniform application of the law relating to the contempt of a court, tribunal, or institution and to provide for the procedure for punishing the offence of contempt of a court, tribunal, or institution. However, they said that the Bill is not necessary in a democratic society. The Petitioners further state that, currently, the offence of scandalising a court or judge is considered virtually obsolescent and damaging to the sanctity of the judiciary.

They said the provisions of the bill are contrary to the basic principles of contempt under common law and aim to criminalise freedom of speech and expression.

The petitioners further said the Bill does not set out the offence of contempt with sufficient precision to enable a citizen to regulate his conduct, which has the effect of stifling freedom of speech and expression. They stated that the Bill appears to violate the principles of Natural Justice and a fair trial.

The petitioners are seeking a declaration that the bill, in whole or in part, thereby requires the approval of the people at a referendum in addition to a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The Supreme Court’s three-judge bench comprising Justice Murdu Fernando, Justice Shiran Goonaratne, and Justice Achala Wengappuli fixed the petitions for further hearing for tomorrow (04).

Saliya Pieris PC, with Counsel Pulasthi Hewamanna, Harini Jayawardhana, Githmi Wijenarayana, and Fadhila Fairoze, appeared for the petitioners. Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle appeared for the Attorney General.