Appreciation: Sunil de Silva
On the 28th of February 2021 as the sun rose in the East and the songbirds sang, Mr. Sunil Chandra de Silva, President’s Counsel, former AttorneyGeneral of Sri Lanka, Crown Prosecutor of New South Wales, eminent lawyer, scholar, teacher, entertainer, handyman, devoted and loving husband and father, and kind and loyal friend and proud alumnus of the Royal College quietly took leave of this world.
I first saw Sunil striding the cloisters of Hulftsdorp shoulders back and ramrod straight, his lawyer’s robes flowing behind him. He was not a tall man but carried himself like a giant in the eyes of junior lawyers like me. His imposing presence could not hide a warm heart.
He had time for us – to stop and ask how we were. Later when we ventured nervously into the Bar Council Canteen where the great and the famous gathered to lunch Sunil would call us to his table and we listened and learned and laughed at his wit.
Sunil’s eminence in law and his service to two nations almost did not happen. His childhood passion, he told me once, was motor mechanics. All he wanted to be, in his own words, was a “grease monkey”. His father had other ideas and dangled the carrot Sunil could not resist. He promised to buy him a car if he gained admission to the Ceylon Law College. The rest as they say is history. Sunil though never lost his passion for making things with his hands. He maintained a workshop at home, perhaps to the mild annoyance of his neighbours. But the neighbours loved him and Senani. The De Silvas were generous with their time and energy in the service of the community and their parties, I am told, were always great.
As a lawyer, Sunil was blessed with a silver tongue and a quicksilver brain. He could have become super rich like some of his predecessors if he engaged in private practice. However, his loyalty above all was to the rule of law. He reached the pinnacle of the profession and served as the chief law officer of the state at a turbulent time in Sri
Lanka’s modern history. There were two insurrections in the South and three decades of ethnic civil conflict in the North. There was emergency rule for long periods. Sunil was unwavering in his defense of the rule of law often earning the displeasure of the political masters. There were laws that I am sure he disagreed with but which he was duty bound to enforce. Through it all he retained the respect of the legal profession and of the judiciary. The presence at his funeral of one of the finest lawyers of Sunil’s era former Attorney-General Hon Shiva Pasupati and other distinguished lawyers is a testament to his magnificent career.
Farewell Sunil, my friend. May you attain Nibbana.
Emeritus Professor of Public Law
The University of Queensland