A. W. H. Abeyesundere
A. W. H. Abeyesundere, QC
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

 (May 4, 1906 – January 31, 1988) was a Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

n lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

, independence activist, former acting Attorney General of Sri Lanka
Attorney General of Sri Lanka
The Attorney General of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan government's chief legal advisor, and its primary lawyer in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. The Attorney General is usually a highly-respected Senior Advocate, and is appointed by the ruling government. The current Attorney General is Mohan...

 and judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

 of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka is the highest court of the nation of Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court is the highest and final judicial instance of record and is empowered to exercise its powers, subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The Court has ultimate appellate jurisdiction in...


Roots and lineage

A.W.H. Abeyesundere was born on May 4, 1906 in the southern Sri Lanka town of Hikkaduwa, the youngest in a family of seven. His father was a proprietary planter and his mother a homemaker. Just three of his siblings survived to adulthood including Dr. E.R. Abeyesundere, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons
Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons
Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons is a professional qualification to practise as a surgeon in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland...

 and A.C.L. Abeyesundere, an proctor
Proctor, a variant of the word procurator, is a person who takes charge of, or acts for, another. The word proctor is frequently used to describe someone who oversees an exam or dormitory.The title is used in England in three principal senses:...


He traced his lineage on his father's side to Yathramulle Muhandiram from the Dutch
Dutch Empire
The Dutch Empire consisted of the overseas territories controlled by the Dutch Republic and later, the modern Netherlands from the 17th to the 20th century. The Dutch followed Portugal and Spain in establishing an overseas colonial empire, but based on military conquest of already-existing...

 era (circa 1669) who was a building contractor awarded the title of Muhandiram by the Dutch for constructing the Dutch fort in Galle
Galle is a city situated on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka, 119 km from Colombo. Galle is the capital city of Southern Province of Sri Lanka and it lies in Galle District....

 using his many elephants. On his mother's side he was a direct descendant of General Wickremasinghe (Wicramasinghe Maha Senevi who was later poisoned by the King) who was the Army Commander of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1580–1593) of Seethawaka to whom former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe
Ranil Wickremasinghe
Ranil Shriyan Wickremesinghe , MP, is a Sri Lankan politician and current Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan parliament. He was Prime Minister of Sri Lanka twice, from May 7, 1993 to August 19, 1994 and from December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004...

 also traces his roots.

Education and politics

Abeyesundere was educated at St. Joseph's College, Colombo
St. Joseph's College, Colombo
St. Joseph's College is a Catholic educational institution in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was established in 1896 by French missionaries, with Rev Christopher Ernst Bonjean playing a leading role. The college has over 4000 students with a staff of over 200...

, where he excelled in his studies. He had the unique distinction of coming first in the entire British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

, Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 at both the Junior Cambridge Examination as well as the Senior Cambridge Examination and won a scholarship to University. He read western classics and economics for a Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

  degree from the University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...


Soon after, while still a student at the Ceylon Law College, he became political aide cum private secretary to D.S. Senanayake
Don Stephen Senanayake
Don Stephen Senanayake was an independence activist who served as the first Prime Minister of Ceylon from 1947 to 1952.-Early life:...

 later Sri Lanka's first Prime Minister . At Law College he came first at the final examination in all three years and passed out with distinction as an Advocate
An advocate is a term for a professional lawyer used in several different legal systems. These include Scotland, South Africa, India, Scandinavian jurisdictions, Israel, and the British Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man...

 of the Ceylon Supreme Court.

Meanwhile he was in the thick of pre-independence politics as Joint Secretary of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha with the late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who later became Sri Lanka's 4th Prime Minister. He was also Secretary of the Ceylon National Congress which was modeled on the lines of the Indian National Congress
Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress is one of the two major political parties in India, the other being the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is the largest and one of the oldest democratic political parties in the world. The party's modern liberal platform is largely considered center-left in the Indian...

 that was fighting for independence from British rule. As a staunch Buddhist he was very active in Buddhist affairs and was Vice President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. He was the person who introduced Dudley Senanayake
Dudley Senanayake
Dudley Shelton Senanayake was a Ceylonese politician, who became the second Prime Minister of Ceylon and went on to become prime minister on 2 more times during the 1950s and 1960s.-Early life:Dudley was born on 19 June, 1911 as the eldest son to Molly Dunuwila and Don Stephen Senanayake, who...

 (who became Sri Lanka's 2nd Prime Minister) to the public at his first political meeting. Until joining public service he played an active role in pre-independence politics with his intimate friends Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and President Junius Richard Jayewardene
Junius Richard Jayewardene
Junius Richard Jayewardene , famously abbreviated in Sri Lanka as JR, was the first executive President of Sri Lanka, serving from 1978 till 1989. He was a leader of the nationalist movement in Ceylon who served in a variety of cabinet positions in the decades following independence...


Legal career

Abeyesundere joined Public Service as an Assistant Legal Draftsman in the late 1940s and rose to be Legal Draftsmen in the mid 1950s. Whilst holding that office he had the unique distinction of being conferred silk
Court dress
Court dress comprises the style of clothes prescribed for courts of law, and formerly for royal courts.- Where court dress is worn :Court dress is worn at hearings in open court in all Senior Courts of England and Wales and in county courts. However, court dress may be dispensed with at the option...

 and appointed a Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

 which was the first and last time a holder of the office was appointed a Queen's Counsel. When the first World Bank loan to Sri Lanka was being negotiated for the Aberdean – Laksapana Power Project in 1954, the World Bank team that came to Sri Lanka insisted that Mr. Abeyesundere, who was Legal Draftsman at the time, be sent to Washington for the negotiations instead of the incumbent Attorney General. During the communal riots in 1958, he was appointed legal advisor to Sir Oliver Goonetilleke
Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke
Sir Oliver Goonetilleke , GCMG, KCVO, KBE was an important figure in the gradual independence of Ceylon from Britain, and became the third Governor-General of Ceylon...

 Governor General of Ceylon and attached to Queen's House. It was during this time that he was also made a Justice of the Peace
Justice of the Peace
A justice of the peace is a puisne judicial officer elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, they might dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions...

 to facilitate his functions in assisting the Governor.

He concurrently held the office of Bribery Commissioner in addition to that of Legal Draftsman and also acted as Attorney General
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

 of Sri Lanka; a record unparalleled where a single individual held all three offices at the same time. During his tenure as Attorney General he was responsible for indicting
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 the assassin
Talduwe Somarama
Talduwe Ratugama Rallage Weris Singho better known as Talduwe Somarama was a Sri Lankan Sinhalese Buddhist monk who shot and killed Solomon Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in 1959...

 and co-conspirators who assassinated Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and also for introducing the use of Sinhala Language in the Supreme Court for the first time. While Attorney-General he was also involved in the investigation into the attempted military coup in 1962
Attempted military coup in Ceylon, 1962
The 1962 Ceylonese coup d'état attempt was a failed military coup planned in Sri Lanka . Several Christian senior military and policy officers planned to topple the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mrs...

  against the government by senior members of the military.

He was subsequently elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
Supreme Court of Sri Lanka
The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka is the highest court of the nation of Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court is the highest and final judicial instance of record and is empowered to exercise its powers, subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The Court has ultimate appellate jurisdiction in...

. He had the unique distinction while a Supreme Court Judge of not having a single of his judgments overturned by the Privy Council on Appeal. He retired as a Senior Puisne Justice.

Post retirement career

Following his retirement from the Supreme Court, he was appointed by the Commonwealth Secretariat in London to be Head of the Institute of Legislative Drafting for the entire East and Southern African Region situated in Lusaka, Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

. On his return to Sri Lanka after a period in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, he was appointed as Chairman of the Committee to suggest changes to the Sri Lanka Administrative Service
Sri Lanka Administrative Service
The Sri Lanka Administrative Service is the key administrative service of the Government of Sri Lanka, with civil servants working for both in the Central Government as well as in the provincial councils. It was formed as the Ceylon Administrative Service in 1963 as the successor to the Ceylon...

. He served on many committees and in many organizations, both in an official capacity as well as a personal one, during his long and illustrious career.


He died in 1988 after a brief illness at age 81 leaving behind his wife Sumana, who subsequently died in 1990, and a son Dr. Sunil Abeyesundere, daughter-in-law Supipi (née Wijeratne) and grandchildren Nilipi and Asanka all presently in the U.S.A.
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