Appreciation: Deshamanya R.K.W. Goonesekera

Appreciation: Deshamanya R.K.W. Goonesekera

Rohan Samarajiva

I could write about Raja Goonesekera’s achievements as a constitutional lawyer, as a stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, or as the author of a report on media reforms that the President who appointed him refused to implement, but I will not.  As a former Director General of Telecommunications, I could write about the important role that he played as a Member of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission in its formative years.  We became friends in that context so I could come up with some nice anecdotes.  But I choose not to do that too. 

Instead, I wish to focus this appreciation on the 11 years he spent as the Principal of Sri Lanka Law College by sharing some excerpts of what I wrote 34 years ago as Editor of the Sri Lanka Law College Review1978, before ever meeting him:

“It is perhaps unusual that students of an educational institution should publish a tribute to a Principal they never were under, whom in fact they have not even seen.   But Mr R.K.W. Goonesekera, the Principal of Sri Lanka Law College from 1963 to 1974, is the kind of person to whom such unusual compliments are paid.  Though Mr Goonesekera resigned from Law College 4 years ago his presence is still felt and his memory treasured.

Mr Raja Goonesekera was at the helm of Law College for only eleven years—a short time in an institution with a history of one hundred and four years.  But, in that short time he changed Law College, perhaps more than any other person before or after him.  His name is synonymous with change, with innovation and with daring.

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Two major policy decisions affected Law College during Mr Goonesekera’s tenure.  One was the fusion of the profession and the other was the change in the language of the law.  It is to his credit that he responded in a most undogmatic way to these changes and implemented them in a creative manner.

He studied the implications of the language switchover—perhaps the only person to do so at that time—and formulated proposals that would give effect to the change to swabasha while not isolating the study of the law from the main currents of legal thinking.  Reference is made to his study of the issue—which deserves publication—and the bilingual scheme that was implemented as a result, in Dr Mark Cooray’s article in this Review.

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His contributions to the student life of Law College deserve special mention.   He was a generous administrator who recognized the truth that the student is the most important element in an educational institution.  One did not have to wring out welfare facilities from him, he himself suggested and provided them.  The mural that he commissioned for the Law College canteen stands as testimony to his enlightened ideas.  The somber, pathetic figures in the mural that become clearer and more alive as we grow mature in the ways of Hulftsdorp, remind us of the man, his courage and his vision.

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This tribute paid to Mr R.K.W. Goonesekera may be lacking in some vital aspects but we hope that it succeeds in expressing the love and respect that the students of Law College have for him.  But the greatest tribute that can be paid to such a man is to revive his projects, emulate his attitude and continue from where he was forced to stop.”

Mr Goonesekera did not resign.  He was forced out of Law College and the country by the Minister of Justice at the time, Mr Felix Dias Bandaranaike.  He was an early victim of the assault on professionalism.  The law student’s carefully written tribute was a small effort to make amends.

 

The poor state of the law and the profession is evidence we did not do enough.  But Raja Goonesekera was one who tried.