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H L de Silva PC: The last of the `greats’

Hulftsdorp has known and will know many a good and competent lawyer; however, the `Greats’, namely, those who have that indefinable quality, be it `intellectual daring’, `extraordinary skill’ in cross-examination or the presentation of a case or any other, that raises him to a special plane over and above those who are merely `competent’ or `good’, are few and far between. In my career of over two score years at the Bar, I have come across but eight who to my mind occupied those dizzy heights – H V Perera QC, E G Wikramanayake QC, C Thiagalingam QC, G E Chitty QC, G G Ponnambalam QC, Dr Colvin R De Silva, S Nadesan QC and H L De Silva PC. HL was the last of the `Greats’, and with his demise it is unlikely that Hulftsdorp will ever be privileged to see a `Great’ again.

Having had the great privilege of knowing HL and enjoying his friendship for many years, I never ceased to be amazed by his mastery of the law, his wide general knowledge, the extent of his reading, his meticulous preparation and attention to detail, the grammatical perfection and precision of his language, and his masterly presentation of a case. These will, forever remain as cherished memories.

HL’s forensic triumphs and the notable cases in which he appeared are legion; but the two that will always stand out in my memory are the `De-Merger Case’ and the `P-TOMS Case’ where HL surpassed even his `brilliant best’, because I believe that in those two cases, though on record HL appeared only for his client Wimal Weerawansa, he was, in fact, appearing for the Country, his fellow citizens and future generations to save them all from disaster.

Today, when one sees mounting evidence of the unbelievably massive array of arms, explosives, state of the art military equipment acquired by the LTTE and the vast quantities of food, fuel etc provided by the Government for the People of the North which these terrorists had robbed, one shudders to think what more the LTTE would have acquired and how much carnage they would have caused had the `P-TOMS’ MOU been implemented and the LTTE allowed to collect millions of dollars of aid given by foreign donors for the relief of the victims of the Tsunami.

Of all HL’s multitude of forensic triumphs, his success in securing an interim order which effectively prevented the LTTE from getting their hands on aid donated for the purpose of the relief of human beings and the reconstruction of property, to use for the purpose of the `wholesale’ murder of human beings and the destruction of property must rank as his finest. The extent of the service he rendered to humanity, our Country and our People by this forensic feat is truly incalculable.

Over and above his brilliance at the Bar, the very greatest facet of HL’s character was his limitless patriotism. Just as much as HL, a devout Methodist, did not wear his religion `on his sleeve’, so also did he not wear his patriotism `on his sleeve’. His love for his Country and its People was deep seated within him and transcended all other considerations: this resulted in HL serving his Country and its People without fuss, fanfare, publicity or even a shadowy hint of a thought of reward, to an extent that is, to my mind greater than the service rendered to the Country by any other member of the legal profession in contemporary times.

HL’s death follows close upon the heels of the death of his good friend and colleague Elanga Devapriya Wikramanayake, another illustrious member of the Bar, whose love for his Country and its People was no second to that of HL. Though these two veritable giants were not in active practice in the last few years, they were always there whenever any advice was required in any matter affecting the fate of our Country, and they always had the time and the patience to give us their sober and invaluable advice and guidance upon request. Now they are both gone and we, who remain and depended so much on their advice and guidance are left forlorn.

HL will be most missed by his wife Manel, his two daughters and three grand-children to whom he was devoted. Our hearts go out to them, but they must necessarily know that they are not alone in their grief. HL was not a mere individual: he was a National Figure and his death, a National Tragedy. There is no one who knew him or knew of him who will not mourn his death.

However, no purpose would be served by mere mourning and `breast beating’. We who are left behind and shared those lofty patriotic ideals for the achievement of which he strived, must gird our loins and continue his struggle for good governance and the preservation of the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of our Country, and the preservation of the Unitary Character of its Constitution – for if we do not, we let down this great Patriot who has breathed his last.

Professor Charles Dahanayake

Professor Charles Dahanayake, Emeritus Professor of the University of Kelaniya passed away recently after an unfortunate accident. To those of us who had the privilege of making his acquaintance he was, indeed, a most warm hearted and an unassuming academic, a person of rare substance. Those who have had the good fortune to have studied under this great teacher have borne witness to his commitment which to many was undisputed.

Prof. Dahanayake had his early education in Galle and later at Ananda from where he entered University. He obtained four distinctions at the University entrance examination, a record at that time. This brilliant student did Physics Special at University of Ceylon and then on completion with a first class had won a Commonwealth scholarship to read for his Doctoral degree at the University of Bristol where he came under a Nobel Laureate, the famed Physicist Professor Cecil Frank Powell. After completing his doctorate he returned to Lanka and was attached to the University of Peradeniya.

While he was a Senior Lecturer there, he won a Smith Mundt-Fullbright Fellowship for post doctoral research at the University of Rochester, New York. He returned to Peradeniya in 1967 and in the same year moved to the University of Kelaniya where he established the Physics Department, and accepted the position of Professor of Physics. In 1971 he was appointed the first Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Kelaniya. He was also the founder president of the Institute of Physics of Sri Lanka and a founding member of the University Grants Commission. He was also a past President of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science in addition to being a member of a large number of professional associations. Professor Dahanayake also had a number of publications to his credit and has worked with some of the most famous names in his field.

Despite this most impressive of academic records, his greatness lay in his humility, which was an example to us all. He was indeed unassuming to a fault. He was a Buddhist who lived as a true Buddhist should; rituals were not for him, Buddhism to him was Mettha (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion) and Mudditha (equanimity) and its fundamentals tenants, Sila (morality) Samadhi (meditation and control of the mind) and Pagngna or the acquiring of understanding or wisdom through meditation. He was, after all, a Scientist and a Physicist. It would not only be his wife Tilaka and daughters, Rachitha and Punitha who would miss him most of all, but all those who knew him have lost a friend and an intellectual with whom we interacted with profit. He was indeed an inspiration to us all.
May he attain Nibbana!

K. Godage

President condoles Deshamanya H.L. de Silva’s demise

It is with a deep sense of grief that I send this message at the demise of President’s Counsel Deshamanya H.L. de Silva, a true legal luminary, who brought honour and distinction to his profession and unparalleled service to his country and nation.

His service, in both the Official and Unofficial branches of the Law, will be remembered for his deep knowledge of the Law, wide knowledge of courtroom practice, willingness to take up the most challenging of cases, and chart new trails in the administration of justice.

Beginning his career 56-years ago, without the advantage of family or relatives connected with the Law, Herman Leonard de Silva rose to be an adornment to his profession and an asset to the nation. He was ready to provide his legal acumen to issues that were crucial to the progress of the nation, and to areas of Law that others had not dared venture into earlier. In the fields of Civil and Constitutional Law, he was unsurpassed in his readiness to test the limits of the Law, and with sagacity and great charm, achieving successes that became landmarks in the progress of the country.
In addition to his service in Law, he was also a distinguished diplomat, who did Sri Lanka proud as the Permanent Representative at the United Nations, New York, where he earned high regard for knowledge of International Law; being notable for his erudition and lucidity in interventions and debates of the Legal Committee of the United Nations. He was also a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the Thimpu Talks and the Peace Negotiations in Geneva, under the present Government.

Mr. de Silva had the courage to take the brief of former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in daunting circumstance, in a case that dragged over several years. In the context of current developments within the country, he will be well remembered for his support of the application that saw the judicial rejection of the Post-Tsunami Operational Structure (P-TOMS) Agreement, and later, his successful support of the Fundamental Rights application that saw the de-merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, a landmark in the judicial history of Sri Lanka.

A kind and friendly personality, he was a respected past President and Honorary Member of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, a keen supporter of his old school, St. Peter’s College, Colombo 4, and an active member of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka.

President’s Counsel Deshamanya H.L de Silva has motivated the courts to embrace a more progressive jurisprudence from the 1970s. He has been a much sought after advisor to the Governments and Heads of State of Sri Lanka, and I shall personally miss his wise counsel on many a pressing issue. With his extensive practice in the Appellate Court, he has the well earned reputation as a true lawyers’ Lawyer.

I take this occasion to extend my deepest sympathies to his bereaved wife Manel, daughters Nilmini and Lakmali, and others near and dear to him, greatly saddened by his loss.
May his Soul Rest in Peace.

Mahinda Rajapaksa
April 10, 2009