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16th Death Anniversary on 5th April, 2003 : Fred E. de Silva - 'lion' of the Kandy Criminal Bar

by M. B. Dassanayake - Daily News Wed Mar 9 2003

Proctor, Solicitor, Advocate, Barrister, Municipal Councillor, Mayor, Member of Parliament and Ceylon's (now Sri Lanka) Ambassador in Paris and the Chancellor of the University of  Peradeniya. That is the string of achievements acquired by Edmund Frederick Lorensz de Silva - the sportsman, lawyer, politician who completed 58 years at the  Kandy Bar.

Mr. de Silva was commonly known to the residents of  Kandy and outside as 'Fred' and his colleagues and litigants called him 'Lion of the Kandy Bar' as he dominated the Criminal Bar for 58 years with a lucrative practice like his father late Mr. George E. de Silva who dominated the Criminal Bar for well over 30 years.

'Fred' was the second son of veteran politician and statesman late Mr. George E. de Silva who fought to achieve Independence and Adult Franchise for this country along with national leaders like late D. S. Senanayake, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Baron Jayatilleke, E. W. Perera, A. E. Goonesinghe and S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.

His brother late Mr. Percy de Silva was an outstanding Legal Draftsman, the country produced.

'Fred' and 'Percy were keen ruggerites and they played for the Kandy Sports Club and Kandy Rovers.

'Fred' was named Edmund Frederick Lorensz after his famous father, George Edmund, his maternal grandfather Frederick Lorensz. He commenced his infant education at Hillwood Girls' School in Kandy. Next he entered Trinity College under Frazer and from there went to S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia. In the Final Year of his secondary education he returned to Trinity before being admitted to the Ceylon Law College.

At school 'Fred' excelled at Rugger and Football having won his Colours at Football at S. Thomas' and at Rugger at Trinity. As a school boy he had the proud distinction of having played for the Rest Team in the Ceylon Vs. the Rest rugger match in 1930. In later years he played rugger for the C.R. & F.C., under Noel Gratiaen. He captained the 'Rovers' in Kandy and played for Kandy Sports Club.

'Fred's' was a talented family. His sisters Marcia and Minnette were equally gifted. Marcia was a historian and even wrote a book in French on the 'Life of the Buddha'. Minnette became Sri Lanka's first woman architect.

In 1931 'Fred' won the Open Law Scholarship. Having completed the Course for Proctors, he was admitted in 1935. As a Proctor 'Fred' commenced his practice in his father's office - De Silva & Karunaratne - and moulded his professional and public life on that of his father. He was elected to the Kandy Municipal Council in 1939, and continued to be there for 23 years.

He was elected Mayor of Kandy in 1947. His father represented the same Ward for 25 years and it is a unique honour for a father and a son to represent the Kandy Municipal Council for nearly half a century.

As Proctor and Mayor, 'Fred' had the doubled privilege of being a litigant and witness in the box in a Court of Law when an Election Petition was filed against his father with 'Fred' as one of the Respondents.

This experience enabled him to understand the agony of a Witness under cross-examination and also the tribulations of a litigant who might ultimately win his Case but end up near insolvent perhaps having had to raise loans and mortgage or sell properties to fight his Case. He always stressed that laws grind the poor and rich men rule the law.

Fred's trauma entered to the benefit of the Kandyan peasantry in later years. On the advice of the late Mr. R. L. Pereira, K.C., 'Fred' qualified as an Advocate in 1950 and was later called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in London in 1959. He said, 'I made my professional career primarily a service to the people.

His fee was depended on the circumstances of the Client and the question of a fee did not arise in certain cases. In any Case mine was never by the day but a block fee. 'Fred's success at the Bar did not depend on any cause celebre. His was a practice built like a solid house brick by brick as it were.

When 'Fred' was Mayor of Kandy in 1947, the entire area from Peradeniya to Getambe and a part of Kandy was devastated by the major flood that year and he faced this grave disaster with courage and determination and saw to the comforts of the 20,000 refugees. As recognition of this gesture he was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) for Humanitarian work in the Flood Relief. In 1954, 'Fred' was elected the Member of Parliament for Kandy and represented the Constituents of Kandy till 1957.

During his Mayoralty, Dangolla and Mavilmada Housing Schemes were initiated. He was responsible for the opening of the tunnel leading to Anniewatte.

He was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France and Switzerland from 1968 to 1971 and was also appointed as the first Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UNESCO, and was the head of the Sri Lanka's Delegation to UNESCO from 1968 to 1971. He was also elected by representatives from 150 Nations by secret ballot to the governing body of the UNESCO, (Executive Board) for six years. He was the first Sri Lankan to be appointed to this prestigious body. He was also the President of the Kandy YMCA, for 17 years.

Fred's son Desmond de Silva, Q.C., London Barrister, City of London Councilman (Farrington Without Ward) who made history of being the first Asian elected here and former Circuit Court Judge who sat at Knightsbridge Crown Court. On 5th December, 1987, he brought history, splendour and romance by marrying Her Royal Highness Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia, great-great-great-great grand daughter of Queen Victoria, grand daughter of the assassinated King Alexander I, cousin of both the Queen and Prince Philip.