Justice Malinie Gunaratne grew up in Galle, Sri Lanka in the 1950s, a time marked by significant political change and the recently gained independence from Britain. She has fond memories of her childhood and recalls a life that was innocent and free of worry.
After completing high school, Justice Gunaratne decided to pursue her childhood dream and commenced a law degree at the prestigious Sri Lanka Law College in 1976.
She explains that of all people, her mother was the person who most influenced her and encouraged the pursuit of her dreams.
‘I was lucky to have the support of my family and to study alongside my cousins, who always gave me a push when times were tough. In this supportive environment I could fully focus on my degree and passed with first class honours.
‘Soon after, I gained employment in the industry and practiced as a lawyer for a few years before becoming a Magistrate at the Lower Court.’
From here, Justice Gunaratne’s career progressed quickly and she soon became a Judge at the District Court and finally, Judge of the Court of Appeal in 2013. Altogether, she recounts, she now has an impressive 30 years of judiciary experience under her belt.
Visiting Australia for a professional development event at Deakin Law School, alongside 11 other esteemed Sri Lankan Judges, brings back fond memories for Justice Gunaratne.
She completed her Master of Laws at Deakin University in 2005, after her three nephews, also Deakin students, convinced her to choose the degree over myriad other options.
She says that studying at Deakin, she enjoyed the breadth of the curriculum as well as the multi-cultural nature of the classroom.
‘In my master’s class we had students from many different countries, including Sri Lanka, Vietnam, China and more. I really enjoyed this diversity.’
The international focus of the degree was another advantage of studying at Deakin. Justice Gunaratne says that knowledge gained via units such as International Commercial Arbitration and International Law continues to positively contribute towards her work.
Returning to further her professional development, Justice Gunaratne says one of the stand-out experiences was re-visiting Deakin’s extensive library and taking advantage of the variety of books and journals available to academics.
‘In our profession, when preparing papers for presentation, journals and books are of utmost importance and it was great to see the array of sources available to Deakin students and staff.’
As part of the professional development program, Justice Gunaratne also attended a number of proceedings at the Federal and Family Courts in Melbourne and mentions that it was interesting to witness how differently some things are done in Australia compared to Sri Lanka.
‘We met a number of family counsellors working at the courts and it seems that their contributions are a deeply established practice here in Australia. Although we have some processes like this in place in Sri Lanka, we still need to improve in this area.’
Justice Gunaratne says that in her job what she most enjoys, without exception, both sides of the story have to be considered. ‘We have to consider firstly, the gravity of the offence, but then also whether it was planned or accidental. It is an interesting fact that 95 per cent of murders are not planned, but an unintentional result of circumstances for example.’
One of Justice Gunaratne’s focus areas is that in the past, cases could be pending in courts for more than a decade. This delay in dispensing justice was a malaise widespread in the country and a speedy disposal of cases is still one of the priorities of the appellate court she explains.
‘My priority is always my profession. I do not have time for much else and my friends and family support me in this endeavour. My purpose is to do justice according to the law and to serve the people of my country.’