September 20, 2017

Q&A: President of BASL Discusses ABA ROLI’s Impact in Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. 

Can you describe how the work of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has impacted the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL)?

“It has helped in sharing ideas and experiences towards (a) greater focus, better organization and for capacity building of our members which is essential for greater professionalism.”

How has working with ABA ROLI impacted you, personally?

“Towards opening new and innovative ways of thinking and varied approaches possible not only to increased professionalism but towards greater effectiveness of the profession and myself as a voice of recognition in society and heading a body which has to fulfill the societal expectations of service.”


Why do you think working with ABA ROLI is particularly important? Would you advise other bar associations to do the same? If so, why?

“It has proved critical to work with ABA (ROLI), a body with a myriad of wealth in experience and thought processes on account of its worldwide engagement with many bars and jurisdictions. I will definitely advise other bars to follow suit.”


Can you give us an example of how ABA ROLI continuing legal education (CLE) efforts have grown in Sri Lanka?

“We are moving towards greater coordination and focus on organizational structure for purposes of continuity and coordination, greater coordination and emphasis on CLE and the code of professional conduct and its implementation. We trust ABA (ROLI) will continue to support us at this critical juncture where we are in the process of achieving goals of greater organization, professionalism, financial sustainability and establishing ourselves as a leader and voice in society needed for constant engagement with relevant stakeholders to ensure good governance, rule of law and democracy. We are already in the process of entrenching the need for CLE in a systematic manner.”


The Sri Lankan bar has taken part in several study tours with ABA ROLI. Can you discuss one that was particularly impactful to the Bar's work? Is there a success story you can tell us as a result of these study tours?

“As for tours, I was involved in a joint stakeholder tour to South Africa. The itinerary and resource persons we met and thoughts exchanged gave me a realistic look at truth and reconciliation, it's being a necessary exercise in the national context subject to the realization that it should be something workable in our situation and not a mere adopting or following of a given model with the realization that it is a difficult and arduous path that has to be taken with many pitfalls and which needs constant working at perhaps for years.”


Can you elaborate on why the signing of the historic Friendship Agreement between ABA ROLI and BASL is significant? How has this helped build the foundation of the legal profession in Sri Lanka and would when would you advise other countries to sign similar agreements? 

“As mentioned it has helped towards greater emphasis on professionalism and to emphasize the public role of the bar in awareness among people for good governance, democracy and the rule of law, enabled the bar to confidently engage the main actors in governance as equal stakeholders apart from bringing to the forefront the importance of access to justice and pro bono work as an aspect of the professions - need to serve society.”


Why do you think the Rule of Law is important?

“It is the very foundation of fairness and justice. Rule of law covers a wide gamut of ideas but at its core is an aspiration for everything positive in a truly democratic system.”

ABA ROLI’s work with the Bar is funded by the United States Department of State and USAID, in partnership with Millennium-DPI.