Attacking a judge is a very serious thing. Sri Lanka, under CBK, reinstated the death penalty after high court judge Sarath Ambepitiya was killed. The suspension of a judge contributed to the downfall of both Pervez Musharaff in Pakistan and Mohamed Nasheed in the Maldives. Hence, it’s pretty big news that High Court Judge Manjula Tilakaratne was attacked and pistol-whipped on Sunday, and that Sri Lankan judges and lawyers are now protesting.
Manjula Tilakaratne was Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The Sunday Times Political Editor has a long breakdown of issues between the JSC and the executive. The Supreme Court actually ruled against something the first family wanted (the Divineguma Bill, centralizing provincial patronage) and refused to meet with Mahinda. At the same time sexual harassment by some unnamed member of the JSC is being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department.
There will almost always been tension between the Executive and Judiciary, though in Sri Lanka the latter has been subjugated pretty thoroughly. The current Chief Justice has seen her husband given an appointment as Chairman of the National Savings Bank. The court generally rubber stamps whatever Mahinda likes and, on the lower level, the courts move faster or slower for the connected (as they desire). In the cases of the highly connected like Mervyn and Malaka Silva, they don’t move at all.
However, while people have been quick to connect the assault on Tilakaratne to this narrative, it’s still not clear. What is clear is that people seem to think it’s ok to assault a High Court Judge after he drops off his kid at school. Getting the guys that assaulted the Judge will be hard, but the government has to show that it’s investigating credibly (something of a rarity), doubly so since people are alleging that they’re involved. People do take attacks on the judiciary very seriously, as when Minister Rishad Bathiudeen was accused of threatening a judge in Mannar. He was actually arrested (and bailed), a rarity for the power elite. As Malinda said in The Nation:
Those who support the Government and the President must hope that this attack had nothing to do with the histories outlined above. Given the manifest absence of checks and balances in the overall structure of governance, including the lack of transparency and accountability, the truth is that over the past several years trust in law enforcement has been severely compromised.
These cases of assault are almost symbolic in that they show the judiciary being attacked in physical, human form. Which is what I think people react to. The public doesn’t actually know how or why Manjula Tilakaratne was assaulted but we do know that the judiciary has been consistently eroded by political and elite interference for their own gain. That is something the guilty can hide in the abstract but which becomes very dangerous when made bloody and real.