Sri Lanka's sacked chief justice, Shirani Bandaranayake. — Photo by AFP/File

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's lawyers Monday announced a legal challenge to the impeachment of the chief justice and vowed to keep up a battle for judicial independence.

The Lawyers' Collective, which includes most of Sri Lanka's 11,000 attorneys, said they would also contest through the courts any appointment to replace Shirani Bandaranayake after her sacking on Sunday by President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first woman chief justice, was removed despite a succession of court rulings which declared the impeachment process to be unconstitutional.

“We will use all legal avenues to challenge this purported impeachment,” Lawyers' Collective spokesman J. C. Weliamuna told reporters in Colombo.

Lawyers said they expected a plethora of cases to be filed in courts when they reopen after a long weekend on Tuesday. Monday is a Hindu religious holiday in Sri Lanka.

Bandaranayake's lawyers said she had no immediate comment.

“The government wanted her out because she remained independent and did not do their bidding,” Weliamuna said.

“This is not a matter that affects only her and the legal fraternity but the democratic rights of all citizens.”

Rajapakse brushed aside international calls for restraint and sacked Bandaranayake who would have had another 11 years in office.

The government's senior legal advisor Mohan Peiris and the senior-most judge of the supreme court Shiranee Tilakawardane are among frontrunners to replace Bandaranayake. An appointment is imminent, official sources said.

The main opposition United National Party has also rejected the sacking while the Commonwealth, the United States and Britain have expressed concern over the impeachment as a blow to rule of law and good governance.

The government maintains that it followed a constitutional process and denies it was politically motivated.

Lawmakers found Bandaranayake guilty of tampering with a case involving a company from which her sister bought an apartment, of failing to declare dormant bank accounts, and of staying in office while her husband faced a bribery charge.


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