Monday, December 15, 2008


Legal luminary who felt for the downtrodden

P. Navaratnarajah

I was privileged to enjoy a close friendship with one of Sri Lanka's most eminent lawyers, the late P. Navaratnarajah, Queen's Counsel, who will go down in the annals of legal history as a counsel par excellence.

In recognition of his outstanding performance at the University College where he read Mathematics and obtained a first Class Honours, he was awarded a scholarship enabling him to proceed to Cambridge University to sit his Mathematical Tripos.

Thereafter, he pursued his legal studies at the Middle Temple where he was called to the Bar in 1934, and in the same year called to the Bar in Ceylon as an advocate of the Supreme Court.
It was in Hulftsdrop that he spent the whole of his professional life, where from a promising junior he blossomed into the eminent Queen's Counsel, despite the fact that when he commenced his career at the Bar, he had none of the hallmarks of the preferred class. He was comfortable, but had no wealth, influence or elite social status.

He was not only brilliant in legal argument, but an indomitable fighter and his particular force was in his reply to his opponents, for which he reserved his most telling points.

To have him as an opponent was an awesome experience. One knew that one had to deal not so much with shrewd tactics or the cross-examining skill, but with one who ruthlessly stripping the case of camouflage would come clearly and crisply to the essential weakness of his opponent's case and the essential strength of his.

He had a legal mind of the highest order and applied it with painstaking thoroughness to every matter which he had to deal with in a clear discernment of legal principles and a fine sense of distinction which govern their applicability, rarely seen in our courts. He made an abiding contribution to the development of the law.

In his relationship with his clients, he had a touching concern for the indigent which followed him to his grave. He despised extortion as a way of life. Indeed, it was said of him that he was one of the front line counsel of his time one could retain with no risk of bankruptcy. He was charitable, but his charity was unknown to others. The poorest of the poor had a place in his heart and home.

To the innumerable juniors who worked in his Chambers, he was kind, sympathetic and generous, particularly to those who had neither influence nor affluence to support themselves during the lean years of their career at the Bar.

As a human being, despite his brilliance and erudition, he was simple with the simplicity of greatness. He shunned public office and neither sought nor cared for public adulation. He was a man of incredible humility-always accessible to the rich and poor alike.

His essential goodness left an abiding impression on all those who were privileged to have known him. He was disappointed and sad when some people who were known to him on assuming high and responsible office lost their bearings. Commenting on such conduct he would remark:-
"Why can't they be nice to people on their way up. They have the intelligence to realize that they Are bound to meet them on their way down. When they are on their way down, it is only the good Will of the people that they take along with them."

When Mr. Navaratnarajah died, not only did we mourn the loss of a great and brilliant lawyer, but of a great friend.

His passing away left a great void in our lives which was not possible to fill. But our sorrow was tempered with gratitude that the fates allowed us to number such a man as Mr. Navaratnarajah among our friends.

Maureen Seneviratne, President's Counsel.

The Birth Centenary of P. Navaratnarajah (Q.C.) fell on Tuesday December 16, 2008:
P. Navaratnarajah: A colossus in the Legal profession

Kalabooshanam Chelvatamby MANICCAVASAGAR

Sri Lanka was blessed during the latter part of 19th and 20th centuries with brilliant men with a vision, mission and foresight who have by their sublime thoughts, power packed words and dazzling deeds attained immortality. To this select group belongs late P. Navaratnarajah (Q.C.)

Paramanathan Navaratnarajah was born in the year 1908, in Puloly at Point Pedro and he received his education at St. Benedict’s College, Kotahena, Colombo 13. There, he laid the foundation of his uniquely illustrious Academic career and entered the University College of Ceylon, as it was then known. He read for the Degree in Mathematics and secured First Class Honours.

P. Navaratnarajah (Q.C.)
He was then selected to read for the Cambridge Tripos in Mathematics and during his sojourn in the United Kingdom, he was called to the Bar from the Middle Temple in 1934. He took silk as Queen’s Counsel in 1965 and in 1984 he completed 50 years as a member of the Bar.

In fact on account of Late H. A. P. Sandrasagara’s (a brilliant Criminal Lawyer) intellectual acumen and oratorical brilliance at the Azzize courts in Colombo, Navaratnarajah wanted to become a Lawyer. As an advocate, he was considered a colossus in the legal profession in this country. He was one of the most polished persuasive and hard working advocates of our times.

His methodical and meticulous preparation of the work entrusted to him, was an exercise in unbounded patience, total dedication and utmost endeavour, not only to give forth of the best of his clients, but also to be to the maximum assistance to the Bench.

When he walked into the court, he knew his brief like the back of his hand and what he did not know, was not worth knowing. His court craft was admirable and unmatched. He retained the confidence of the Bench, the esteem of his colleagues and the gratitude of his clients right upto his passing away.
Navaratnarajah will go down in history as one of the all times great of Hulftsdorp. Many are the civil cases in which, by his clarity of thought, mastery analysis, mellifluous language assisted the Bench in clarifying and setting the principles of law relating to complicated civil Law.

Beginning slowly, but steadily Navaratnarajah built a huge practice at the original courts of Hulftsdorp.
He was a specialist in contract Law, Defamation and Election petition cases and Company Law.

There are many other qualities and attributes of late Navaratnarajah which are singularly refreshing and endearing. One such quality was his sense of Compassion and kindness. He always had time for people in particular for his juniors who remembered him with great affection.

Further, Navaratnarajah played a crucial role in the public affairs of this country. He was Director of the S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike National Foundation, Hindu Cultural Foundation, Hindu Citizens’ Committee and Trustee of the Times of Ceylon which was bought by a distinguished Tamil Entrepreneur Sangarapillai of Karainagar from the British owners.
Navaratnarajah played a key role in the S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike - S. J. V. Chelvanayagam pact to bring about good relations and cordiality between the two major communities of Sri Lanka. Navaratnarajah was one of the greatest prophets of national unity and solidarity.

Barrister Navaratnarajah got married to “Sundaranayaki”, the only daughter of Dr. C. Sabapathi of privy council fame and an illustrious member of the Medical profession. Further, he has left behind three daughters namely Navaranee Shanmugaratnam, Lalitha Pararajasingam and Dr. Manohari Shanmuganathan. Jamuna Ganeshalingam who is the President of the Colombo Young Women’s Hindu Association and former President of the Vada Hindu Girls’ College, Point Pedro (Colombo Branch) is Navaratnarajah’s youngest brother late Dr. Sri Pathmanathan’s daughter.

Blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, infectious enthusiasm and inspiring leadership combined with his imagination, encompassing sweep of his thought he left an indelible impression what he did with rare dynamism and exemplary zeal Indeed, he rose above sectariasm, communalism, regionalism and racism.

Furthermore, in the hectic transitional age in the progress of Sri Lanka from a British crown Colony through a period of Semi-Self-rule to a free and independent nation, a few names stand out as leaders of undisputed versatility. They made lasting contributions and offered leadership in a variety of fields at one and the same time through their multiple talents.

One such colourful personality was Barrister P. Navaratnarajah (Q.C.) who was an intellectual giant on his own right. In fact, there was no aspect of a subject on which he had no clear cut views or an innovative approach and these had been developed through reflection, critical examination and open minded consultation.


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