Too Slow to Act

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Legal Bills have most constantly been slow in Sri Lankan history due to several reasons, including the legal draftsman department or due to other procedural mishaps. This has resulted in the delay of passing and implementing some crucial laws.

Animal Welfare Bill

One such bill that has been held up is the Animal Welfare Bill, which has become crucial over the years considering the continued cases of animal abuse reported in Sri Lanka.

The Cabinet approved the proposal put forward by the former Minister of Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage to gazette the Animal Welfare Bill and submit it to Parliament for approval.

Thereby the Cabinet in October 2020, approved the Animal Welfare Bill to be drafted and the Attorney General’s clearance was also obtained for the Bill which was drafted by the Legal Draftsman.

In March 2022, legal officer of the State Ministry of Livestock, Farm Promotion, Diary and Egg-Related Industries, P.A. Kanchana Priyadarshani said the Bill will be presented to Parliament. She noted that a separate unit was to be set under a veterinary officer to deal with the new Animal Welfare Act. The Bill was specifically drafted to prevent cruelty to animals as there were several incidents of animal abuse reported in the recent past.

According to the Bill, those who injure animals will be subject to a fine of Rs 70,000 or will be sentenced to a maximum term of two years in prison or both, offenders who kill animals will be subject to a fine of Rs 125,000 or imprisonment of a maximum of three years or both and in the event an individual injures a pregnant animal, such person will be subject to a fine of Rs 125,000 or a maximum imprisonment of four years or both.

She added that such fine and actions will be applicable if the animal that has been subject to cruelty has not been a threat to the public. Welfare officers of the Ministry will ensure that actions are taken against those who commit these offences.

The Government also specified that special attention to the proposed Animal Welfare Bill with the support of the government as well as NGOs and animal welfare groups under a lengthy consultation process was given at the Ministerial Consultative Committee on Agriculture noting that the main purpose of this Act is to show kindness, compassion and due diligence to animals and ensure the protection, welfare and well-being of animals and also preventing cruelty to animals.

Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera requested further attention to be paid to matters pertaining to the Bill and for changes to be submitted if amendments are made following the discussion. However, even after nearly two years, the Animal Welfare Bill is yet to be passed. Animals continue to be abused on a daily basis and offenders are only liable to pay a small sum as a fine.

Amendment to the MMDA

Another highly debated amendment was that to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) which has been repeatedly called for by the community that has been affected by certain provisions of the Act.

In March 2021, Cabinet approved proposals to amend the MMDA. This was followed by the Cabinet approval to amend the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) and the procedure relating to matrimonial action in the CPC, enabling persons professing Islam to be governed under the said ordinance if they are expected to get married under the Marriage Registration Ordinance as proposed by the Minister of Justice.

The Cabinet observed the provisions under Article 12 of the Constitution ensures that no citizen should be discriminated on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion or place of birth or any such grounds adding, however, that certain provisions of the MMDA contain certain discriminatory provisions.

They stated that thereby it would be appropriate to provide the Muslim community with optional opportunities to have their marriages and divorces, governed under General Law which presently oversees marriages and divorce of citizens. 

The Secretary to the Ministry of Justice M.M.P.K Mayadunne said the Cabinet Paper on the proposals for the amendment of the MMDA was submitted to the Cabinet adding, however, that the Cabinet has informed that more time will be required for its approval as the consultation process is on-going.

He said while certain reforms are requested by many, including raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years, the consultation process has been further delayed due to other amendments to which all parties are yet to arrive at a consensus.

One such issue is that of polygamy, he observed adding that the amendment for the provision in regard to polygamy was not provided for in the said proposal for amendments as this is a sensitive and debatable topic. He said proposals in this regard have been sought from the Cabinet, however, without setting a deadline or timeframe for its approval.

Laws regulating three -wheeler operations

With the recent fuel crisis and increase in prices, passengers being overcharged by three-wheel drivers have come about as an additional burden.

The draft of the relevant law regulating three-wheelers has been held back at the Legal Draftsman’s Department for over a year, Director General of the National Transport Commission, Dr. Nilan Miranda said.

He said several irregularities have been observed in the operation of three-wheelers during the fuel crisis, adding however that due to the delay at the Legal Draftsman’s Department, the amendments required have also been delayed.

While noting that Provincial Councils are vested with the authority to regulate prices and standard of three-wheelers, he added the amendments seek to regulate not just three-wheelers but also office and school vehicles.

President of the All Ceylon Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Association, Lalith Dharmasekera, also requested to make relevant amendments so three wheelers can provide an improved service. Dharmasekera stated that authorities have turned a blind eye despite persistent requests.

While these three are only extremely important bills and amendments, there are several other Bills and laws that have been delayed due to procedural shortfalls that have to be addressed as promptly as possible to avoid future delays in even more important laws.

By Faadhila Thassim