Life As A Lawyer
Sir James Peiris by L.J.M. Cooray

He was called to the Bar at one of the Inns of Court in England. The "Morning Leader" of May 6, 1930 reports that he had in England declined the offer of powerful friends to secure for him a nomination to the Ceylon Civil Service. He was not ambitious. His stated preference was to be a farmer.

He returned to Sri Lanka and started a law practice. In 1902 he accepted for a short time the office of District Judge of Galle.

The "Times" (referred to by Keble and Surya Sena, op cit p 28) records that while at Galle, Mr Peiris exhibited a judicial temperament and a faculty for accurately estimating the value of evidence, which won high praise from the Galle Bar. This is supported by the fact that of all the numerous appeals against his decisions, only two led to reversals by the Supreme Court.

Some of his happiest hours were spent as a Law Lecturer and Examiner and as a Member of the Council of Advocates. See Keble and Surya Sena, op cit, p 20.

"... an old Johnian who was travelling in the East discovered him almost by accident. As he passed down one of the streets of the city, his ears were saluted by a murmuring stream of gently flowing sound which in some way he could not explain to himself carried him back to the Cambridge of his younger days. So strong was the impression that he entered the building from which it proceeded determined to track the mystery to its source. There he found Peiris addressing a judge exactly as he had once addressed the Union, and making his points with a curious swaying motion which had given so persuasive a character to his utterances there and which had always been regarded as one of his most engaging personal idiosyncrasies. Mutual recognition followed." THE EAGLE (The Journal of St John's College, Cambridge), June 1930.

The "Ceylon Review", September 1894 carried an article on James Peiris which extolled his "achievements at Cambridge and at the English Bar", but which goes on to say, "The modesty of his nature has made believe that Mr Peiris lacks in practice what he excels in theory".

Perhaps this stirred James Peiris to begin to take a greater interest in public affairs.

James Pieris' great contribution as a lawyer was in the field of constitutional reform. This subject is treated in different parts of this lecture. The quotations above provide an introduction and illustrations are provided below.