Centre of justice and the heart of Fort
Rule of Law
The colonial powers brought with them their justice system, and these institutions have stood the test of time. Sri Lanka operates to the principles of Dutch Roman law even today. The old Dutch courthouse - first used as a barrack for Malay soldiers - at the corner with Queens Street is still there. Those were brutal days. Offenders got their punishment in the square for everyone to see, hanging, branding, and lashing took place ceremonially.
When the British took over in 1798, the first governor Frederick North abolished barbaric punishments and established the magistrate’s court - next to the old Dutch Court- and the District Court in a new white building. Even up today, Fort is the centre of justice, the small saffron yellow buildings dotted around the square are the offices of lawyers, letter writers and photo-copy shops.
On Sundays the square doubles as a cricket pitch. The giant banyan trees date back to Dutch days. Hidden in the thick branches are a Hindu and Buddha statue, harmoniously side by side. Across the road in Akersloot Bastion - named after the birthplace of WJ Coster who led the Dutch siege over the Portuguese - is home to the oldest breadfruit tree in the country, brought by the Dutch from Madagascar.