The Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, which is the only Faculty of Law in the entire University system of this country, traces its origin to the Department of Law in the Faculty of Arts of the then University of Ceylon established under the Ceylon University Ordinance No. 20 of 1942. The Department of Law was established in July 1947 under the Faculty of Arts. It was then located in “College House” which was previously known as “Regina Walawwa”, purchased by the government in 1920 for the purpose of setting up the University College which was the forerunner of the University of Ceylon.
Pursuant to the decision to locate the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya and pending the completion of the necessary buildings at the new site, the University of Ceylon functioned in the premises of the University College in Colombo. With the construction of a part of the buildings, the Department of Law was shifted to Peradeniya in 1950, where the first law degrees were awarded. However, the Department of Law was brought back to its original place when it was transferred to University of Ceylon, Colombo in 1965. It continued to be under the Faculty of Arts till 1967 when it was upgraded to become the first and only Faculty of Law in the University system, which position it continues to enjoy to this day. The University of Ceylon, Colombo became the University of Colombo with the introduction of the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978.
Sir Ivor Jennings, the renowned Constitutional law expert, succeeded Sir Robert Marrs as the Principal of the University College and later on he was the first and founder Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon. He was also the advisor to the government of D.S. Senanayake in drafting the Independence Constitution of Ceylon. Sir Ivor Jennings was the lecturer on Constitutional Law for the students of law in the University of Ceylon. The other lecturers included Justice Soertsz Q.C., Professor T. Nadaraja and Dr. H. W. Tambiah. The first batch of four students was selected from those who qualified the First Examination in Arts, popularly known as the General Arts Qualifying (GAQ) Examination. They went on to do a further three years of law studies and qualified as Bachelor of Laws Degree holders. Thereafter the Department of Law admitted students directly from the G.C.E (Advanced Level) Examination and its predecessor. From 1950, those who obtained the LL.B Degree from the University of Ceylon were permitted to sit for the then Final Examination for enrolment as Advocates of the Supreme Court of Ceylon conducted by the Ceylon Law College, under the aegis of the Council of Legal Education headed by His Lordship the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the country. After the fusion of the professions of Advocate and Proctor into Attorney-at-Law in 1973, the LL.B. graduates of the University of Ceylon/Sri Lanka have been permitted to sit for the Final Examination for the Admission of Attorneys-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.
The Faculty of Law has produced many eminent law graduates who have excelled in the field of law as well as in other related fields. Some of the well known scholars who served the Faculty of Law and who were produced by the Faculty include Justice Soertsz Q.C., Professor T Nadaraja, Justice H W Tambiah Q.C, Dr. R. K. W Goonesekere, Dr. H L de Silva P.C., Mr. Ranjit Abeysooriya P.C., Justice S Sharvananda, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Professor G L Pieris, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, Justice J A N de Silva, Mr. Felix R Dias Bandaranaiyake, Mr. Lakshman Kadirkamar P.C., Dr. C. F. Amerasinghe, Dr. Ranjit Amarasinghe, Justice Mark Fernando P.C., Mr. Faizs Musthapha P.C., Justice (Dr) A.R.B. Amarasinghe, Dr. Nirmala Chandrahasan, Professor M. Sornarajah, Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, Professor Suri Ratnapala, Justice Saleem Marsoof P.C., Mr. Ikram Mohamed P.C., Dr. Hiran Jayawardena, Professor L.J.M Cooray, Professor M J A Cooray, Dr. Jayantha de Almeida Gunaratne P.C., Justice (Dr.) Shirani A Bandaranayake, Justice K T Chitrasiri and Dr. Sivaji Felix.
The curriculum of the Law Degree spanned for three years and was taught in the English language from its inception. However, the medium of instruction was expanded to include the teaching of law in Sinhala and Tamil as well in 1971. Since 1971, the teaching and examination for the LL.B Degree has been in Sinhala, Tamil and English. Although the number of years of the Law Degree programme was three years from its commencement in 1947, it was changed to be a four year programme in 1981, which introduced many new law subjects in the curriculum. This was a major revision which took place after ten years of teaching in the national languages. The curriculum underwent another major revision in 1996 thus bringing in many new subjects some of which are electives giving the choice for students to select from a basket of them.
The number of students admitted to the Faculty of Law has steadily increased from its inception and now it stands at a little over 200 students per year. In the 1970s, around 75 students were admitted to the Faculty of Law, in the 1980s it was around 150, in the 1990s it was around 200 and in the near future it is hoped that the Faculty will admit around 250 students per year. The Faculty of Law continues to carry its teaching and examining functions at the undergraduate level in all three languages, though it encourages the students in the national languages to take at least some subjects in the English language so that they will find it easy to engage in professional work once they complete the Degree.
From 1961, the Faculty of Law commenced the LL.B Degree External Examinations for external candidates; however, it ceased to entertain new registration after 1985 after giving due notice. Although the Faculty of Law has had the Master of Laws by research and Ph. D programmes, it commenced the taught Master of Law programme in the late 1970s and it continues to attract a large body of students at this level. It admits around 100 students for its Master of Laws programme and there are around 20 candidates for the M. Phil and Ph. D Degrees (research degrees). The Faculty of Law was in the forefront of setting up the Centre for the Study of Human Rights in the University of Colombo and this Centre is attached to the Faculty of Law for the purpose of its academic and administrative activities.
The Faculty of Law has three Departments. They are Department of Public and International Law, Department of Private and Comparative Law and Department of Commercial Law. This will facilitate further developing and deepening of expertise in these separate areas under different Heads of Departments.
The main objective of legal education in the Faculty of Law has been not only to teach its students what the law is but also, and importantly, to teach them what the law ought to be. They are also trained in acquiring a variety of important skills which are needed for the legal profession. It is not a place where only knowledge is imparted; it is a place where students are trained to develop a habit of mind which will enable them to search for the truth. They should contribute to the rule of law and be responsible citizens with social relevance and with proper attitude to serve their motherland which has provided a lot for them to obtain this education. The Faculty of Law concentrates not only on transmission of knowledge but importantly on inculcating necessary skills and proper attitudes to be a law graduate with social responsibility and respect for human rights and other rights of people.