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The Origin and the Proceedings of the Medico-Legal Society of Ceylon

During its First Phase – 1937 to 1940[1]


In the inaugural address to the Medico-Legal Society of Ceylon, on Thursday, December 1937 at the Law Library, the Chief Justice, Sir Sidney Abrahams expressed his own personal gratification upon the formation of the Society, which was the result of a suggestion that he made at the Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner of the Ceylon Branch of the British Medical Association. He paid a tribute to the intellectual. and academic qualities that members of both the professions possessed. He said that the fact that this Society was formed thirty six years after such a Society was formed in England was not a matter for reproach, when it was remembered that it had taken England many hundred years to form one themselves. He stressed the great advantage that this Society would have, not only in discussions of subjects of  medical jurisprudence, but also in the better training of the professions in each others science. It was eminently desirable, he said, that medical men should know how to give evidence and it was equally necessary that counsel should have to ask questions precisely and to the point. He referred to a few instances such as questions of insanity, questions of the position of wounds, questions of handwriting and finger prints. He regretted that in a country in a country as advanced as Ceylon proper scientific apparatus such as to distinguish mammalian blood from human blood were not available to the analyst, though in Colonies such as Uganda, they had them long ago. The Medico Legal Society would be interested in securing proper homes for those ordinarily insane different from the insane who were convicted of crimes. Sir Sidney’s address was received with applause.

Thereafter the formation of the Society was proposed by Mr. J. W.R. Illangakoon, K.C the Attorney General and seconded by Dr. S.T. Gunasekera, Director of Medical and Sanitary Services.. Dr. L.A. Rajapakse  LL.D acted as Secretary protem, and Sir Sydney presided.

Mr. C.V Ranawake proposed that Sub Committee be elected to draft the Constitution and the Rules of the Society. This was seconded by Mr. H.V.Perera K.C.  The following were appointed to the Sub Committee: Messrs. J.W.R. Illangakoon K.C., Lawrie Muthkrishna, Dr. J.R.Blaze,              Dr. N. Sinnadurai, and Mr. L.A.Rajapakse.

Mr. H. Sri Nissanka proposed and Mr. C. S. B. Kumarakulasinghe seconded that the draft Constitution and Rules be circularised so that members may consider them before the next meeting

Mr. J.R. Blaze thanked the Chairman for giving a good start and beginning under an excellent augury for the future.

The names of the members present have been recorded in the minutes of this inaugural meeting and the minutes were subsequently confirmed on 24 February, 1938.

First General Meeting

The inaugural meeting was followed by the first general meeting held on Thursday, 24 February 1938 in the Law Library, Hulftsdorp, presided over by Sir Sydney Abrahams, who was elected its first President.

A large number of members were present.

It was decided to name the Society as the Medico-Legal Society of Ceylon.

The draft Constitution prepared by the Sub-Committee, which was made available prior to this meeting was discussed. The proposed rules were taken up one by one, and after alteration or amendment , the rules were approved and adopted.

The objects of the Society were decided as follows:

  1. the recognition of medicine and other allied sciences, in the administration of justice
  2. the promotion and dissemination of medico-legal knowledge in all its aspects
  3. the holding of meetings, seminars and symposia at which papers may be read and discussed for the furtherance of the aforesaid objects of the society
  4. the enrolment of qualified members of the Legal and Medical professions, and such other persons who may be interested in medico-legal work .

The Society also decided that :

  1. its affairs shall be managed by a Council consisting of Honorary Officers and six other members of the Society.
  2. the quorum be fixed at 5 members.
  3. 2 members of the Council who are not Honorary Officers shall retire annually by seniority
  4. No retiring member shall be eligible for re-election until one year has lapsed from the date of retirement.
  5. The President, Vice Presidents, Treasurer, Secretaries and the Editor of Transactions shall be elected annually.
  6. The tenure of the Office of President shall be for no more than 2 consecutive years.
  7. Casual vacancies shall be filled up by the Council only for the balance period of the retiring member.
  8. The Accounts of the Society shall be certified by an Auditor who shall be elected each year at the Annual General Meeting.
  9. The Council shall submit to each Annual General Meeting nominations for each of the office bearers and Council.
  10. It shall be competent for any two members to nominate any member of the Society to the Council or to any office, provided such nomination is sent in writing to one of the Secretaries not less than four weeks before the Annual General Meeting.
  11. All nominations whether by the Council or by individual members of the Society shall be printed or typed on the Notice calling for the Annual General Meeting.
  12. Annual General Meeting of the Members of the Society shall be held in February each year not later than the last date thereof at which the report of the meetings together with a Statement of Accounts duly made shall be presented and Officers of the Society and Members of the Council shall be elected.
  13. Notice of such meetings and of the business to be transacted there shall be given to members at least fourteen days before such meetings.
  14. When requested by twelve members or by the Council, the Secretaries shall convene a Special General Meeting of which not less than fourteen days notice shall be given and such notice shall specify the purpose of such meeting and no business other than specified in that notice shall be transacted at such meeting.
  15. No rule shall be made, altered or rescinded except by the Society at a General Meeting.
  16. Subscriptions – The Annual Subscription shall be Rs. 10/= payable on election and on each succeeding first of January.
  17. Membership of any member, whose subscription is two years in arrears be terminated automatically, but any such member who shall pay his arrears may be reinstated by the Council

The meeting next proceeded to the election of Office Bearers. The first office bearers of the Society were:

President                        Sir. Sydney Abrahams, Chief Justice of Ceylon

Vice Presidents               Mr. J. W. R. Illangakoon, K.C. Attorney General

                                       Dr. S.T. Gunasekera, Director of Medical & Sanitary Services

Treasurer                         Prof. Milroy Paul, F.R.C.S. (Eng). M.S. (Lond)

Secretaries                      Dr. E.M. Wijerama, M.D. (Lond), M.R.C.P. (Lond)

Editor of Transactions      Dr. J. R. Blaze, M.D. (Lond), M.R.C.P. (Lond)

Council Members           Dr. A.O. Gunawardena M.B.B.S.Mr. C.V.Ranawaka, B.A. (Lond), Advocate, Dr. W.S.Ratnavale, M.R.C.S. L.R.C.P.,   Dr. N. Attygalle,     F.R.C.S.,Mr. H.Sri Nissanka, Bar-at-Law , Mr. L. Muthukrishna, Handwriting Expert  

First Council Meeting

The first Council met at the Official Residence of the Hon. Chief Justice on 10 June 1938 with Sir Sidney Abrahams in the Chair. 8 members were present.

It was decided that the Society should meet every quarter or the last Friday of the months of February, May and November at 6.30 p.m. alternatively in the Law Library and the Colonial Medical Library (Borella – Maradana Rd) and that the  Annual General Meeting should be held in February.

It was also agreed that there should be an Annual Dinner in the month of February or March ; the Honorary Secretaries were requested to make arrangements with the following gentlemen to give lectures: Drs. S.C.Paul (Senior Surgeon) , N. Sinnadurai (JMO), C.O. Perera (Supdt. Mental Hospital), S. Ratnavel (Pathologist) R.F. Dias (District Judge), and Mr. C.V. Collins.

The meeting ended with a Vote of Thanks to the Chair. 

Second General Meeting

The Second General Meeting was held on 26 August 1938 at the Colonial Medical Library which is presently part of the Anatomy Dept. of the University. Sir Sidney Abrahams presided.

After confirmation of the meeting of the General Meeting on 24 February 1938, the applications of new members were accepted and duly elected as members.

The chief item in the Agenda was a lecture by Dr. N. Sinnadurai M.D. Lond., the Judicial Medical Officer of Ceylon. Sir Sidney, introducing the lecturer, said it was a matter of gratification that an expert in Medico-Legal Science had consented to read the first paper to the Society. Dr. Sinnadurai then proceeded to read his paper on “The Evolution of Medico-Legal Science”. The following members thereafter offered comments on the subject: Sir Sidney Abrahams, Mr. R.L.  Batholomeusz, Dr. Sextus Wickremasinghe, Dr. P.B. Fernando, Dr. N. Attygalle, Mr. H.H. Basnayake, Dr. H.M. Peiris, Dr. J. R. Blaze, Dr. R.W. Willenberg, Mr. Stanley de Soyza, Mr. C.E.A. Edwards. Dr. Sinnadurai

The Vote of Thanks to the Chair was given by  Dr. H.O. Gunawardena .

The meeting terminated thereafter. 25 other members were present.

Third General Meeting

The third General Meeting of the Society was held on Friday, 25 November, 1938 at the Law Library, Colombo. In the absence of the President, Dr. S.T. Gunasekera, Vice President  occupied the chair. The minutes of the General Meeting of 26 August 1938 were read and confirmed.        Mr. Mckenzie Perera was elected as a new member.

The chief item on the Agenda was a lecture by Dr. R.F. Dias M.A., LL.D. (Cantab), District Judge Colombo on “Some Mutual Problems” . A large number of members attended the meeting.

Second Council Meeting

The Second Council Meeting  was held in the Chambers of the AG on 14 December 1938 with Mr. J.W.R. Illangakoon, Vice President in the Chair. Six Council members were present.

Regarding the first Annual Dinner of the Society, the Council unanimously decided to invite H.E. the Governor, Lady Caldecott and Miss Caldecott as Chief Guests.

It was also decided that representatives of the Ceylon Daily News , the Times and Observer be invited as guests of the Society. The Secretaries were requested to make arrangements at the Galle Face Hotel or the GOH.

A letter from Mr. Sri Nissanka to read a paper on “The Strange Case of Apooruwa “ was read and it was decided to write to Mr. Nissanka to kindly inform the Council the medico-legal bearings of this case.

The Hony. Secretaries were empowered to engage the services of a typist for the meeting at the rate of Rs. 5 /= per meeting.

Third Council Meeting

The Third Council Meeting was held in the Chief Justice’s Bungalow at 6.45 p.m. on Monday 06 February 1939 with the Chief Justice in the Chair.

With regard to the first Annual Dinner of the Society it was decided to hold it at Galle face Hotel. It was further decided that the H.E. Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott be invited to propose the toast of the Society to which the President, Sir Sidney Abrahams  was to reply. Mr. J.W.R. Illangakoon was to propose the toast of the Medical Profession and Dr. J.R. Blaze , the toast of the Legal Profession, and Dr. H.O. Gunawardena, the toast of the President.

The Council then decided on the names of the Office Bearers and Council members for the ensuing year. It was also decided that Dr. Wignaraja be nominated as Auditor.

Subsequent General Meetings and Council Meetings till November 1940.

Apart from the above, the minutes record the under-mentioned activities up to 1940:

  • Annual General meeting on Friday, 24 February 1939 at the Ceylon Medical Library
  • Presentation of the Annual Report for the period 1938/1939 on 24 February 1939- Lecture on “Medical Witness and Court of Law” by Dr. S. C. Paul
  • Second General Meeting on 26 May, 1939-Lecture on “Expert Witness” by Mr. J. E. M. Obeysekera.
  • Third General meeting on 25 August, 1939 – Lecture on “Criminological Aspects of Alcoholism” by Dr. C.O. Perera, Superintendent of the Mental Hospital
  • Lecture on “Workman’s Compensation” by Mr. S.J.C. Shockman December 1939
  • Council Meeting on Thursday 11 January, 1940 – Chamber of Hon. Legal Secretary
  • Presentation of Annual Report for the year 1939/1940
  • Annual General Meeting on 26 February 1940 at the Colonial Medical Library. At this meeting Mr. J. C. Howard, then Chief Justice was elected President. Lecture on “Some Problems on Handwriting Evidence” by Lawrie Muthukrishna”.
  • General meeting on 31 May, 1940 – Lecture on “King vs Ruxton” by Mr. R.F. Dias
  • General meeting on 1 November, 1940 – Lecture on “Sir Bernard Spilsbury in the Witness Box” by Mr. R.R. Crosette Thambiah

End of First Phase

The above description of the inauguration and the proceedings of the Medico-Legal Society of Ceylon has been culled from the Minutes Book of the Society from the date of inauguration up to the end of the first phase which brought all activities to a halt as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War. All minutes have been carefully recorded by the Hony. Secretaries in their own handwriting in the Minutes Book. The first Minutes Book is well bound and extends up to August 1990.

M.S.L. Salgado

Member from 1966


[1] Source: MLS Minutes which have been carefully preserved since the inception