According to BASL, the three visas had been granted by the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration but later revoked by its Ministry of External Affairs. Upul Jayasuriya, BSAL President said: “We considered it our duty to make the voice of the legal profession heard at a time when Sri Lanka is taking over the Chair-in-office of the coveted Commonwealth Organisation”, but this “has now been thwarted with the cancellation of the valid visas that have been issued to them by the Controller of Immigration”.
In March 2013, following an earlier denial of visas, an IBAHRI delegation undertook a remote fact-finding mission to investigate the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. The report, A Crisis of Legitimacy: The Impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and the Erosion of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka, concluded that her removal from office was unlawful, undermined public confidence in the rule of law, and threatened to “eviscerate the country’s judiciary as an independent guarantor of constitutional rights”.
Writing in the Independent (5 November), Sadakat Kadri, IBA mission rapporteur and associate barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, explained that: “Earlier this year, an international legal organisation asked me to go to Sri Lanka as part of a fact-finding mission, only for the government to declare our visit a ‘direct threat’ to the nation’s sovereignty. The Information Minister later explained that, as lawyers, we would ‘never’ be allowed in, and would be welcome in future only ‘for tourist purposes’.”
Access was denied despite a declaration from Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Chris Nonis, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in April, that representatives of IBAHRI “are absolutely welcome to come in”.
Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, sent a message of solidarity to the Bar’s Sri Lankan colleagues: “Whilst we face significant challenges to our justice system and access to justice in this country, we must always remember that colleagues in other jurisdictions are facing far graver challenges…We support the right of Sri Lankan lawyers to operate freely and independently from Government and will continue to speak up on their behalf.”