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Sri Lanka: Reactions To The Impeachment Of The Chief Justice

The impeachment of the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake has been the talk of the country. Bandaranayake is an academic and her lack of judicial background had led to several protests by lawyers and judges at the time of her appointment in 2011. The allegations brought against her are of abuse of power and failure to disclose her income and her foreign exchange. She says that she is not guilty of the charges the government brought against her. However, it is widely speculated that the impeachment proceedings were triggered by an adverse judgment given by her striking down the Divenguma Bill. Law and Other Things blog explains:

The bill would have centralized development funds which were previously devolved to local authorities, and would have granted greater discretionary powers to the Minister of Economic Affairs. Devolution has been a long standing demand of Tamil parties and was brought as part of the peace process. However, ethno-nationalist Sinhala politicians want to nullify even the limited devolution that has been introduced. Basil Rajapakse, the Minister for Economic Affairs, is the brother of the President Mahinda Rajapakse. The Speaker of Parliament, who initiated the impeachment proceedings and heads the Parliamentary Select Committee, is Chamal Rajapakse, another brother of the President.

Photograph of 43rd and first female Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Hon. Dr. Shirani A Bandaranayake. Copyright Shaveen Bandaranayake CC BY 3.0.

An impeachment motion against Chief Justice Bandaranayake signed by 117 ruling party MPs was handed to the Speaker of the parliament on 1 November 2012. An eleven member parliamentary select committee (PSC) was appointed to investigate the charges against her who conducted three hearings and the opposition MPs withdrew from PSC on 7 December, 2012. In a report to the president the PSC it was revealed that three of five charges against Bandaranayake had been proven and this was enough to remove her from office. Opposition MPs have rejected the PSC report.

Law and Other Things reports:

On December 15, The Bar Association of Sri Lanka passed a resolution in support of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and asserted that it would not cooperate if a new person was appointed in her stead as Chief Justice by President Rajapakse. (Details here in a report in the Hindu). On December 19, the Chief Justice moved the Court of Appeal asking for the impeachment proceedings against her to be quashed. Details of her arguments are available in this story in the Washington Post.

Street protests also continued in the country. Indi.ca reported that protests for the Chief Justice was broken up by government supporters and the police stood by.

On 3 january 2013 The Supreme Court ruled that the PSC had no power to investigate allegations against the chief justice and the impeachment was therefore unconstitutional by misinterpreting the constitution. But on the following week the impeachment motion against Bandaranayake was debated by Parliament and the motion was passed with a majority vote. This move raised many legal debates.

On 13 January 2013 Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was replaced by Mr. Mohan Peiris.

In an interview with Groundviews, Asanga Welikala, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives termed the impeachment as devastating. UNP parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne said that parliament was the instrument used by the president to weaken the judiciary.

Patta Pal Boru reacts about the new appointment:

how can a person who has been advising the President of any country in the past three years or thereabouts in turn be appointed a Chief Justice, as by definition, his loyalties and objectivity is called into question, no matter how much standing he has in society.

Tisaranee Gunasekara writes:

The quintessentially Rajapaksa-impeachment produced a quintessentially Rajapaksa Chief In-justice. Mohan Peiris, the trusted acolyte of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the man who lied to the world on behalf of his political masters, is the ideal choice to head the Rajapaksa judiciary, given the critical absence of a Rajapaksa Sibling, Son or Nephew capable of holding that fort.

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Colombo as they participate in a rally against Chief Justice Bandaranayake. Image by Tharaka Basnayaka. Copyright Demotix (4/12/2012)

There are also opinions favoring the removal of the Chief Justice. Malinda Seneviratne writes after the impeachment:

The CJ, with or without the consent or complicity of her backers or rather the anti-regime circus, did herself no favors. [..] The antics of the Government and its backers certainly made it possible to tag ‘witch-hunt’ to the process. [..]

The behavior of the Chief Justice, before and after the process began, tells me in no uncertain terms that she falls well short of expectations. She has, by omission and commission, helped compromise the dignity of the position.

After her impeachment Bandaranayake claimed that she fears for her life and those of her husband and son.

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