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 Post subject: Hulftsdorp
 Post Posted: Sun Jun 25, 2006 10:34 pm 
Hulftsdorp-a veritable courts complex

By Dharmapala Senaratne
@ The Nation / 25 June 2006

Hulftsdorp is often misspelt and misarticulated probably for the reason that though it is neither Greek nor French, yet it is not English either. R. L. Brohier wrote it as Hulftsdorff as recently as 1884.

The current Sinhala name for the area Aluthkade (New Bazaar) probably dates from early British times when the old market was shifted from Pettah to this place, according to Supreme Court judge, Justice A. R. B. Amarasinghe.

But there is an interesting story behind the place.

The nomenclature simply means the village or camp of Hulft, who was a Dutch governor in Sri Lanka. He came here from Batavia to take charge of the affairs of governance of the maritime provinces. They were under Dutch rule at the time but their authority was being challenged by the Portuguese.

Having come to Sri Lanka as Director-General of Dutch forces, he made close friends with the Kandyan King, Rajasinghe. Shortly before his demise, he even called on the king in Kandy with many presents and was warmly received. He even went so far as to kiss the king’s feet.

The king’s intention was to chase away the Portuguese with his military assistance. but Hulft had ulterior motives.

However, he was victim to an unidentified gunman, whose tribe seems to have been as much in existence then as it is now. This incident took place somewhere on the present day Dam Street. That his death, still a mystery, at a young age, as a bachelor, caused deep sorrow in the king is an authenticated fact of history.

The coming of law courts to Hulftsdorp is a much later occurrence.
It happened during the time of the first British governor Sir Fredric North, who himself was resident at Hulftsdorp for sometime. North was appointed governor by the King of England in 1802, immediately after Ceylon became a crown colony. Mark it. It was a time when slavery was in existence in Ceylon. As Dr. Colvin R. de Silva observed, ‘Slavery lingered on in the country till it was peremptorily abolished by orders from England in the middle of the century’.

At the time, the Supreme Court of Judicature and the British garrison were both located in Fort. Overcoming a prolonged resistance by the judiciary, North, at long last shifted the courts to Hulftsdorp, signifying a case of the Executive prevailing over the Judiciary. Justice A. R. B. Amarasinghe records the event as follows in his ‘Supreme Court of Sri Lanka’.

‘At the time there were only two judges of the Supreme Court, a Provincial Court and a Magistrate’s Court. There were two Dutch gentlemen who acted as English speaking advocates and proctors. There were no problems of congestion. There were not many courts or lawyers practicing at Hulftsdorp even at the turn of the century when the construction of the present courthouses was completed’.

The laying of the foundation stone for the present courts complex was done on Independence Day in 1985. The construction was completed fast with financial assistance from the People’s Republic of China and the new complex became functional equally fast. Soon thereafter, the High Court which held sessions at a dilapidated building at the then Bullers Road, was shifted to Hulftsdorp.

The Hulftsdorp Hill thus became the location of a veritable courts complex which is the largest of such complexes in Sri Lanka, with all hierarchical courts from Primary Court to Supreme Court located here.
The Hill can be approached from all sides through Mihindu Mawatha, St Sebastian Street and many other byways. It has now developed, what may be called, a court sub-culture surrounding it with even the olden day drafters of petitions, affidavits, etc. on their rickety type writers waiting for customers on the pavements, as a vestige of a bygone era.

As one reaches the hilltop, the building of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka meets one’s eye. The statue of President Premadasa is a prominent landmark here.

Proceed a little further and you will find on the left Sri Lanka’s only law college, Judicial Services Commission and the Magistrate’s Court complex cheek by jowl in their century-old buildings. The Legal Aid Commission and the Legal Aid Foundation are around the place to complete the picture. The Ministry of Justice is located in the new building. Thus, the whole area is a hive of activity of lawyers, litigants and others on all working days.

The strain of complaint often heard is the absence of a public transport service along Hulftsdorp Street which is a felt need though there was such service some years ago.

(The writer is an Attorney at Law)

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