faculty of law

My Days in the Faculty of Law

A Glimpse of a Great Heritage By Justice Dr. Saleem Marsoof PC

Before I write about my days in the Law Faculty, I would like to provide some background about the Faculty of Law of the University of Ceylon, Colombo, which now enjoys independent status as the University of Colombo. The Faculty of Law had its origins in the Department of Law set up in July 1947 as part of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. Pending construction work in Peradeniya, the University functioned from the “College House” which was previously known as “Regina Walauwa”, purchased by the government in 1920 for the purpose of setting up the University College which was the forerunner of the University of Ceylon.

The first academic staff of the Faculty of Law and its first batch of students

It is remarkable that the original academic staff of the Department of Law of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, included Sir Ivor Jennings, a leading constitutional expert and the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, Justice Francis Soertsz Q.C., Professor T. Nadarajah and Justice (Dr.) H. W. Tambiah Q.C.  The very first batch of four students of the Department of law was equally distinguished and consisted of Mr. R.K.W. Goonesekere, who later served as the Chancellor of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya and Principal of Sri Lanka Law College, Mr. Shiva Pasupati, who was later Attorney General, Mr. Ana Seneviratne, who has since functioned as the Inspector General of Police, and Mr. Hema Rupasinghe, who became a prominent Advocate. These students were selected on the results of the General Arts Qualification (GAQ) examination held in 1947 to study law for a further three years to qualify for the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree  conferred after the University was physically shifted to Peradeniya in 1950.

Direct admission

The second batch of students to take to the study of law at the University of Ceylon was the first to gain direct admission to the Department of Law without having to face the General Arts Qualification (GAQ) examination and graduated in 1951. That batch consisted of only four students, namely Mr. Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike who took to politics and held office as a prominent Minister, Miss. Lakshmi Jayasundera (who later married Mr. Felix R. Dias Bandarannaike), Mr. H.L. de Silva, who turned out to be an excellent President’s Counsel, and Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, who worked as Director of WIPO before taking to politics and holding office as a Minister of Foreign Affairs.

First Class Honours

The first ever Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) First Class honours pass was conferred on Mr. K. Shinya, who was in the third batch that graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in 1952 and went on to became a prominent Advocate with a lucrative practice, and the second First Class honours went to Dr. H.M.Z. Farouque, who graduated in 1960 and went on to serve as the Registrar-General of Sri Lanka before migrating to Australia and taking to academia.  It will be of interest to know that the batch that gained admission to the Department of Law in Peradeniya in 1958 and graduated in 1961 was the largest during that period with 18 students, three of whom obtained First Class honours, namely Prof. Savitri Gunasekere (nee Ellepola), Prof. L.J.M (“Mark”) Cooray and Prof. WickremaWeerasooria all of whom excelled in academia and distinguished themselves in many other respects.

The other distinguished personalities to obtain the law degree with First Class honours were Prof. M. Sornarajah in 1966 and Prof. G.L. Peiris in 1967, both outstanding scholars who went on to serve academia so well. It was during this period that the Department of Law was brought back to Colombo initially as part of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ceylon in 1965 and was upgraded in 1967 to become the first and the only Faculty of Law in the University of Ceylon. The University of Ceylon, Colombo, which by virtue of theUniversity of Ceylon Act of 1972 was re-designated as the University of Sri Lanka, Colombo campus,became the University of Colombo in 1978.

It is worth mentioning that First Class passes in law have been rather difficult to come by even in recent times despite the gradual increases in the intake of students, and it was not until 1978 that another First Class was conferred on Mr. ThusanthaWijemanne, a banker turned diplomat who also worked as a Director-General of the SAARC Arbitration Council. A First Classhonours degree was next bestowed in 2001 on Ms. Shermila Perera (nee Anthony), and soon thereafter in 2003 on Ms. Nishara Mendis, in 2010 on Ms. Chathurika Akurugoda, in 2013 on Mr. Supun Rashinda Jayawardena and Mr. Sachintha Dias. First Class honours degrees were also conferred in 2015 on Ms. Pramoda Shanika Vithanage and in 2016 on Mr. Minaal Wickremesinghe. All recipients of this rare distinction have gone on to contribute immensely to academia while functioning in other capacities as well. It is noteworthy that while Thusantha, Chathurika, Supun Rashinda and Pramoda happened to be Sinhalese medium students, Supun Rashinda was visually handicapped as well, a factor that did not prevent him from making his own contributions to academia.

My entry into the Faculty of Law

The first ever batch of students to be admitted to the Faculty of Law of the University of Ceylon, Colombo, happened to be my senior batch that gained admission in 1967, and I was privileged to be a member of the 1968 batch, which was the second batch ever to enter the Faculty of Law.

One of the most remarkable things I noticed when I stepped into the office of the Faculty of Law in 1968 was that it was not such a large institution. I comforted myself with the thought that “small is beautiful,” and found the faculty to be not only small and beautiful but a hallowed portal of learning. Our batch was also small, with around thirty students in it as was our senior batch, quite a contrast to batches of three hundred or more students admitted these days. I fondly remember how affectionately our seniors, such as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, academic turned diplomat,Dr.Palitha Kohona, Prof. Suri Ratnapala, Professor Emeritus of the T.C Beirne School of Law of the University of Queensland, Australia,Dr. Sunil F.A. Coorey, author of Principles of Administrative Law in Sri Lanka,Mr. Charitha Ratwatte, Mr. Justice Suresh Chandra, who became my judicial colleague in the Supreme Courts of Sri Lanka and Fiji, the evergreen Mr. J.C. (“Chula”) Boange, Mr. Jacob Joseph and onetime Secretary-General of Parliament, Ms. PriyaneeWijesekera, welcomed us with open arms.

The Freshers’ Trip

Our seniors also hosted us to dinner and joined us on our Freshers’ Trip to Salava Estate, where we had a nice time with fun and games including a little softball cricket. I had the opportunity to bowl a few overs to “Markie”, as Prof L.J.M Cooray was fondly referred to, who had no trouble scoring a few sixers against my bowling. During my studentship at the Faculty of Law, I did not encounter or hear of any sort of offensive “ragging” found to be in vogue in State universities in later years, a phenomenon I happened to study as the Chairman of a Committee of Experts appointed by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka in 2020.

Small is Beautiful

At the time of my admission to the Faculty of Law, we had two lecture halls with a small staff room adjoining the Science Faculty building on the main campus and close to the University Ground, and we had a nearby canteen close to the lecture halls. Our first days in the Law Faculty were indeed interesting, as we made new friends and began learning the basics of law. From the day we entered the Faculty of Law as students, we were encouraged to read extensively. I must, however, confess that at the beginning my two favourite books were ‘Learning the Law’ written by Glanville Williams, which I had purchased from a second-hand book shop, and ‘Roman Private Law: Founded on the “Institutes” of Gaius and Justinian’, authored by R.W. League, which I read in the Library. Of course, our prescribed text for Roman Dutch law happened to be R.W. Lee’s ‘An Introduction to Roman-Dutch Law’, which has been translated into Sinhalese as well.

I remember the University Ground very much, as it was here that the Faculty of Law, won both sprint relays at the Freshers’ Meet held in 1968, beating the much numerically superior Faculties of Arts, Science and Medicine. I happened to be the first lapper of the winning team with my school mate Naufal Zanoon being entrusted with the last lap as he was an outstanding athlete, who also went on to win the sprint events at the Inter-University Sports Meet held later. I also very much remember the larger canteen located across Thurstan Road on the side of College House, where we often went for lunch and I used to play chess, a game that helped to improve my ability to focus and strategize, which were essential attributes of a good lawyer.

The Faculty Library

I shall be failing in my duty if I do not mention the Law Faculty Library, which was one of the first places I visited with my new-found friend Mr. Dharmasena Navaratne, and where we spent time gaining much needed legal expertise. The Library was then located across Reid Avenue next to the former planetarium building and had a good collection of law books including a valuable Roman-Dutch Law section, with volumes of Voet’s Pandects and other works, and law reports from all over the world.

Great impetus was given in the Faculty of Law to the study of Roman Dutch Law, which is a fine blend of Roman law and Dutch-Germanic customary law, on which foundation the common law of Sri Lanka has been built upon.  It was thought at that time that to study law in Sri Lanka, it was essential to know Roman law, which was one of the four subjects for the First Examination in Laws (also known as ‘First in Laws’), the other three being Legal Systems of Ceylon, Criminal law and Constitutional law.

The First Year at the Faculty

The subject of Roman Law consisted of 4 papers, and one of them was Latin, the language of the Romans, taught by Mr. E.F.C Pereira, whose Latin classes I had been evading at Royal College, and his expression when he first saw me at the Law Faculty was “In flagrante delicto” (meaning “You get caught red-handed”). The content covered by the other 3 Roman law papers, which were respectively, General Principles of Roman Law, Lex Aquilia and ActioIniuriarum, were taught to us very meticulously by Prof. T. Nadarajah, who was then Dean of the Law Faculty, Prof M. Sornarajah, Prof Stanislaus Pulle and Mr. Alavi Mohideen. Prof C.F. Amarasinghe also gave us occasional but insightful lectures.

We also studied our Legal Systems as a separate subject taught by young Miss. Nirmala Naganathan (now Prof. Nirmala Chandrahasan) through whose lectures we were able to get a good grasp of the development of our Roman Dutch based common law and how it co-existed with Sri Lanka’s special personal laws, the Kandyan law, Thesawalamai and Muslim Law. We were taught how our common law could be developed progressively to meet the changing needs of society and how its content was influenced by English law concepts introduced through judicial decisions. When we studied Criminal law, we were taught by our very impressive young lecturer Prof. Ravi Tennekoon, about the important provisions of the Penal Code and its applications, and when he left us for higher studies overseas, Judge F.N.D Jayasuriya, very skilfully showed us how these provisions interacted with other provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code. We also found our study of Constitutional Law under Prof L.J.M. Cooray most interesting and stimulating.

Second and Third Years

Our second and third years in the Faculty of Law were focused on in depth study of principles of substantive law of which we had already got glimpses in the first year. We had two papers in Law of Persons, two in Law of Property, and two in Law of Obligations (of which one was on Contractual Obligations and the other on Obligations arising from Delict, which is the Roman-Dutch law parallel to English Law of Torts such as Negligence). We also had two papers on Commercial Law, a paper each on the Law of Trusts, Public International Law and Jurisprudence. Our lecturers in these two years included Prof. T. Nadarajah, who taught us the intricacies of the law of Fideicommissa, on which he had written a legal masterpiece,  Prof. L.J.M. Cooray, who authored valuable works including An Introduction to the Legal System of Sri Lanka and The Law of Trusts,  Prof. C.F. Amarasinghe, whose works on the ActioIniuriarum  and Defamation and other Injuries  were wonderful pieces of writing, Prof. Nirmala Chandrahasan and Prof. M. Sornarajah, who taught us Public International Law, Prof Savitri Goonesekere who taught us Law of Contract, Law of Persons, Law of Property and Commercial Law and Dr. Nimal Dissanayake, who taught us the Law of Delict and Jurisprudence. The entire degree course at that time was of three years duration, and after sitting the First in Laws, the students had to face only one more exam, which was the Final Examination in Laws held at the end of the third year that covered subjects taught in the second and third years.

Student Life at the Faculty

My student life at the Law Faculty was very interesting, and I feel that my days in the Faculty were well spent. There was quite a bit of politics that hardly interested me, but what kept me going was creative writing and participating in almost all sports representing the Faculty of Law; everyone of us had to owing to the small number of students then admitted to the Faculty of Law. During our second year in the Law Faculty, one of the enthusiastic new entrants, Mr. Senaka Weeraratna, proposed to the Law Faculty Students’ Union that it should publish a newsletter or bulletin containing news and views of students on academic and other matters of interest for students to express themselves and improve their writing skills. I recollect the meeting of the Union chaired by its then President, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe with Mr. Graham Hatch functioning as Secretary at which Senaka’s proposal was debated. While there was consensus on the need for some student publication on a regular basis, the focus of the debate was how it was going to be named, and in the end the title of Jura(which means law in abstract or rights)was decided upon unanimously. I contributed extensively to Jura as did the other students.

I must mention that it was from the Law Faculty’s treasure trove, its wonderful Library, that I penned my contributions to Jura on a variety of subjects including “Bedazzled” (a piece in which I raise soul-searching questions) and performed my duties as one of the Student Editors of the Colombo Law Review, the law journal published by the Faculty of Law. It was also from here that I started work on what turned out to be my maiden academic publication, a case comment entitled “The Common Law of Ceylon after De Costa v Bank of Ceylon and the Kodeeswaran Case” , which was well received and  extensively quoted and cited in text books such as Prof. L. J. M. Cooray’s An Introduction to the Legal System of Sri Lanka  and Marleen H. J. Vanden Horst’s Compensation for Improvements– The Roman Dutch Law in Sri Lanka.  I felt very humbled to note that Prof. Cooray in the Preface to his book has stated that the discussions he had with me had compelled him to rewrite some parts of his book, and it is this kind of encouragement that helped us to do well at the Faculty of Law and later in facing the challenges of real life.


A remarkable feature of life in campus, and in particularly in the Faulty of Law, was how it has made it easy for us to contribute to the wellbeing and development of society. What we learnt at the Faculty of Law stand in good stead, even after so many long years, in helping us to develop empathy to live in harmony with those who may not had the benefit of the exposure that we had and enjoyed. Friendships that began in the Faculty of Law have flourished to build bonds across the world, and Facebook and other modes of social interaction have helped us to keep in touch. Indeed, the Faculty of Law has been a great heritage that we have come to cherish, and to which we owe what we now are.

The Almuni Association of the Faculty of Law (AAFL) is in the process of strengthening these bonds not only to keep its members together but to improve conditions at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo. The Faculty of Law faces immense challenges in developing its curricula, teaching methodology and maintaining its benchmark standards to help its current students to face local and global challenges in the future.  When one looks around, one sees the contribution past students of the Faculty of Law have made to society, and the journey must go on to make Sri Lanka and the world a better place to live.

By Justice Dr. Saleem Marsoof PC

Contact Us

Alumni Association of the Faculty of Law (AAFL),
University of Colombo,
Philip Gunawardena Mawatha,
Colombo 07, Sri Lanka.

+94 77 224 0384 (Secretary)