The British colonial period in Sri Lanka (1796-1948) had a significant impact on the island’s legal system. The British brought with them the English common law system, which they imposed on the local population. This resulted in the creation of a dual system of law, with the Roman-Dutch law and customary law continuing to coexist alongside the new common law system. The British also established a centralised legal system, with a hierarchy of courts and a uniform set of legal procedures, which helped to create a more unified and consistent legal framework. The influence of British law can still be seen in the contemporary legal system of Sri Lanka, particularly in the areas of commercial law and criminal procedure.
British took over the coasts of Ceylon (low country) in 1796 and the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815. One of the important characteristics of British policy regarding the administration of their colonies was that they did not introduce English law by replacing prevailing laws in a colony with their laws. According to the rules governing the colonies, which are reflected in the decision of Campbell v Hall, Pre-existing laws (RDL & special laws) remain unchanged unless changed by the UK Parliament or by King’s prerogative power. (or by the local legislature after independence)
The Mukkuvar & Chettie laws became nearly obsolete unless they survived as a local custom. Proclamation of 1799 and Proclamation of 1815 ensured the continuity of existing laws. Similarly, other statutes promulgated by the British administration in Sri Lanka, such as the Charter of Justice of 1801, 1833 and the Ordinance of 1835, reflected the approach set out in Campbell v Hall.
When considering all these developments that have taken place in the legal system of Sri Lanka, it is agreeable that the Sri Lankan legal system is a mosaic of multiple sub-legal systems.
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