Tamil people flock to new LTTE courts

[TamilNet, Thursday, 25 September 1997, 12:00 GMT]
Tamil people in the Amparai and Batticaloa districts have been flocking to make use of the LTTE's judicial system which is being extended in the east of the island. An LTTE courthouse which was recently established in Batticaloa district is proving so popular that many Tamil residents are even crossing over from Sri Lankan government controlled areas to file cases.

Scores of cases are being decided each day in the new courthouse, according to court officials. Most of these are civil, ranging from disputes over land to adultery, and these are generally being settled in a day or two.

Criminal cases such as blackmail and assault may take a month to be settled and more serious crime, such as murder may take longer. The relative speed of resolution is one reason the courts seem popular with the public.

Penalties for the guilty are strict and vary from fines to jail terms, depending on the severity of the crime. However, conviction for rape and some cases of murder may result in capital punishment, though this has rarely been invoked..

The LTTE law books are written in classical Tamil. Older, established laws form the basis, but these are regularly updated and extended to cater for the social issues that the LTTE has focused on addressing, such as the dowry and caste systems.

Despite its popularity with the Tamil people, the judicial system is often criticised by the LTTE's detractors, who point out the that many judges are very young and do not hold many formal (i.e. Sri Lankan) qualifications.

The Tamil people themselves seem satisfied with the judges' abilities and training and with the integrity of the LTTE judicial system in general. The court system is one of the main points of contact the LTTE has with the Tamil public, and it is careful to be seen to be just.

In fact, the LTTE has tried an alternative form of judiciary, based on groups of intelligentsia, such as retired civil servants, school teachers, etc., organised at the local community level. However, this system led to a flood of complaints from the public, with accusations of partiality and incompetence. The LTTE therefore decided to administer the courts directly.

All current judges are members of the LTTE and subject to its own customary discipline. Applicants are carefully screened and selected on their standing within the LTTE and in their communities. Successful applicants are then trained in LTTE law and an examination process selects the final graduates.

Despite their relative youth (many judges are in their twenties), they are accepted as impartial and professional by the public, in contrast to the 'citizens committee' approach. If there are disagreements with the decisions of a court, there are appeal courts where senior, more experienced judges preside.

Unusually, law is not treated as a entrepreneurial profession in itself. This is apparently to ensure that wealth does not bring an unfair advantage to defendants or plaintiffs. Legal costs are also kept to a minimum. Furthermore, a lawyer cannot defend someone whom he or she knows to be guilty (for example by confession).

The LTTE has established courts across much of the Tamil homelands which are under its control. General law and order is maintained by the LTTE police who have their own stations and vehicles, distinct from the Tigers' military forces'.

In general, the LTTE's law enforcement and peculiar judicial systems seem to have significantly reduced crime in the areas the Tigers control, a point acknowledged by supporters and opponents alike.


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