Constitutional Reform in Sri Lanka: Another Missed Opportunity?

1 November 2018



Speaker: Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President's Counsel. Member of Parliament

Sri Lanka has both concentrated and dispersed ethnic groups with the majority Sinhalese being a minority in two of its nine provinces. Although limited devolution was granted to all provinces in 1987 in response to an armed Tamil secessionist movement, successive Governments have used every conceivable means to take back powers. In the current constitutional reform process, strong demands for meaningful devolution have been made by the Sinhala-dominated provinces, indicating that devolution is seen also as an instrument for balanced regional growth, a welcome development. Sinhala nationalists oppose devolution, equating it with federalism which is perceived by many as a springboard for secession. The challenge is to provide for effective and meaningful devolution to address both the national question and demands for balanced regional development, while assuaging fears of possible secession.

Moderate Tamil leaders seem flexible and do not oppose anti-secessionist safeguards but want constitutional guarantees for powers devolved; the two main parties of the South are in a unity government - such a stellar combination may not come again. However, the initial optimism has waned, mainly due to the two parties being unable to agree on an extent of devolution that is acceptable to the Tamils as well. Another thorny issue is the nature of the executive; while main slogan at the 2015 Presidential elections was a return to a parliamentary form of government, the two main parties are now not agreed on the powers and method of election of the President.

The Sri Lankan story has been one of missed opportunities, on the part of both the Sinhalese and Tamils. Now, with the two main parties of the South unable to agree on two of the most crucial issues, will it be another missed opportunity?

About the author

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne counts 41 years as a practising lawyer in Sri Lanka. In 2001, he was appointed President's Counsel, equivalent to a Queen's Counsel in England. The main areas of his legal practice are constitutional law, human rights, administrative law and criminal law.

He holds a Master's degree in Public Administration from the Post-graduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and was awarded the Ph. D. degree by the University of Peradeniya for his thesis titled "Fundamental Rights in Sri Lanka". The thesis has been published with a second edition.

Dr. Wickramaratne served as Consultant in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs from 1996 to 2001. He was Senior Advisor in the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs in 2004 and from December 2005 to February 2008. He was a member of the Government's Constitution Drafting Team that drafted the Constitution Bill of 2000. He chaired a committee appointed by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights to draft a new constitutional Bill of Rights.

From January to July 2015, he was Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka on Constitutional Affairs and played a key role in the drafting of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Dr. Wickramaratne is a member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka since August 2015. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly which is tasked with preparing a new draft Constitution and co-chairs its Management Committee. He is also a member of the Parliament's Committee on Standing Orders.

Dr. Wickramaratne has extensive experience in the legal sector of Laos, having worked there for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the European Union and Swedish Sida over the past 16 years. His work includes being Chief Technical Advisor in the UNDP's Legal Sector Preparatory Assistance Project in the Ministry of Justice, Team Leader of the UNDP's Legal Sector Evaluation, consultant to International Law Project, Consultant to the Regional Workshop on Treaties for countries of South-East Asia, Legal Advisor to the UNODC's human trafficking project for three years and human rights expert for activities funded by the European Union from 2015 to date.

He is a Director of the Institute for Constitutional Studies, a research organization working on constitutional issues including constitutionalism, devolution, power-sharing and human rights.

Dr. Wickramaratne has written extensively on legal and constitutional issues and presented numerous papers at international and local events. His latest publication is "Towards Democratic Governance in Sri Lanka: A Constitutional Miscellany" - a collection of papers on constitutional law, power-sharing, human rights and international law.


CPD Points: 1


This seminar is sponsored by the Sydney Centre for International Law.


Time: Event has been cancelled

Location: Common Room, Level 4, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown, University of Sydney

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 470c2661011304011b1e71392f0f232c3b745c0e144a2b1e