Sri Lanka’s legal system delays discourage investors: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s court system needs to be urgently digitised in order to position Sri Lanka as an attractive destination for foreign investments, and uphold the integrity of Sri Lanka’s judiciary, minister of foreign affairs Ali Sabry said in parliament this week.

“The IMF diagnostic report on Sri Lanka has analysed how Sri Lanka’s delays in justice have affected the economy. We have to be as competent as our regional powers; and the judiciary has a big responsibility to fulfil in enabling our competency as a nation,” the minister said.

“As a lawyer I get questioned by foreign investors on the time it takes for a court case. ‘How much time on average will a court case take in Sri Lanka?’ We cannot give a definitive answer to these questions since it takes years for a court case to conclude in Sri Lanka.”

“On ‘Time Taken to Enforce a Contract’ Sri Lanka on average takes 1,318 days for this process. According to the global index, out of 183 countries we sit at the 108th position. The IMF diagnostic report recognises that it is incredibly easy for lawyers in the Sri Lankan legal system to ask for additional days and, therefore prolong court cases,” Sabry said.

“One day it’s the stenographer not showing up, the next it’s the lawyer claiming they are sick, and this way people extend the duration of the case by using various excuses.”

He said that these arbitrary extensions result in court cases lasting for years, sometimes even a decade on average.

“We all have seen how cases in the early 2000s and some in the 2010s have reached verdicts in the recent past.”

“Without any foreign investments we cannot elevate our economy. In 1991, 34 percent of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product was from exports. Today it has fallen to a 14 percent contribution to the GDP.”

Sabry said that the reason for this was that foreign investors are discouraged from coming to Sri Lanka due to delays to justice in local courts.

“They cannot find a solution to their problems, whenever it may arise, legally in Sri Lanka, due to the amount of time it takes for a case to be resolved. The second reason is that Sri Lanka is a very unlikely option in terms of being legally competent amongst a sea of other countries with better suited, competent legal systems.”

He said that Sri Lanka as a nation should direct attention towards establishing a mechanism that allocates a timeframe within which a court case should be heard and resolved.

Furthermore, he said it was critical to digitise and enable virtual participation court proceedings to streamline this process.

“We should especially follow other countries who have enabled hearings through technology. During the COVID period we brought in a new Act, several courts were able to conduct hearings online, enabling even prisoners to join Court of Appeal hearings virtually from inside a designated place in prison.”

“We need to further improve this mechanism. India has not ceased its use of technology and virtual participation in hearings. Some international Indian attorneys appear for one court case in India from London and then log onto another court case held virtually in London, right afterwards.” (Colombo/Nov10/2023)

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