Gnanamuttu V Attorney General
(SC Application No. 152/98)
Case argued – 15 March 1999
Court Decision – 5 May 1999
A Tamil civil engineer, Joubert Gnanamuttu, was detained at a military check point in the heart of Colombo because he did not have a special registration form. He had in his possession his national identity card and other forms of identification. He was taken to two police stations and after many hours was told that he had to retain a lawyer. A fee was demanded of him. Mr. Gnanamuttu’s assertion that he did not want a lawyer and could represent himself were ignored.
CPA sponsored an application before the Supreme Court alleging that Gnanamuttu’s fundamental rights had been violated by the military at the check point and also thereafter by the police who detained him. The Supreme Court upheld his application and ordered the State and the main police officer to pay him Rs 50,000 as compensation.
The case, which attracted widespread publicity, was important as it dealt with a form of harassment which many Tamil people living in the Western Province experienced frequently. The registration requirement is itself controversial as it is often applied in a discriminatory manner against Tamil people. The demand that they should carry the form on their person makes it worse. The court clarified that it was not mandatory for the registration form to be so carried.
The case also revealed how the police and unscrupulous lawyers collude to harass and victimise Tamil civilians.