Petition challenging proposed amendment to Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance | Daily FT

Activist Ambika Satkunanathan has filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka under Article 121(1) of the Constitution challenging the amendment to the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act. The respondent is the Attorney General.

The petition states that provisions of the proposed amendment are inconsistent with the Articles of the Constitution of Sri Lanka prohibiting torture, unequal treatment and arbitrary arrest and detention.

The petitioner points out that the proposed amendment denies bail to persons suspected or accused of committing offences under certain sections of the Act until the conclusion of the trial, which is incompatible with fundamental rights protections in the Constitution.  

Petitioner states that the proposed amendment allows for de-facto compulsory drug treatment, which has been declared by the United Nations as ineffective and futile and considered to violate several human rights standards, including the right against arbitrary detention, the right to be free from torture and the right to the highest attainable standard of medical care.

The proposed amendment empowers police officers to refer a person to undergo a medical test to ascertain “drug dependency” and if the person is found to be dependent on drugs, the officer can refer the person to residential or non-residential drug treatment. 

The proposed provision hence allows a person to be admitted to residential treatment by a police officer without a judicial order. The petitioner states there is no medical test that can determine drug dependence and further states that empowering a police officer to refer a person to rehabilitation would be liable for abuse and result in the violation of fundamental rights.

Children who are convicted of committing offences under this Bill are also liable for imprisonment for up to 10 years according to the proposed amendment. The petitioner highlights that such provisions are contrary to the best interests of the child and will result in the criminalisation of children instead of providing them with the required assistance.

The proposed amendment allows police officers to document and subsequently destroy drugs, prior to the conclusion of the trial, which the petitioner states could potentially adversely impact a person’s right to a fair trial.