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Sri Lanka’s President sacks Chief Justice

January 14, 2013

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse (R) and Sri Lankan Member of Parliament Sarath Amunugama (L) arrive at parliament to present the 2013 budget in Colombo on November 8, 2012.

COLOMBO: Ignoring domestic and international protests, President Mahinda Rajapaksa removed the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, from office on Sunday after parliament passed a motion asking him to do so on grounds of proven “misbehaviour”.

In a formal announcement earlier in the day, presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said: “President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed this morning the order removing Chief Justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake from office with immediate effect in accordance with the resolution passed by Parliament on January 11. This measure was taken in terms of Article 107 (2) of the Constitution. The removal order was delivered this morning to the official residence of Ms Bandaranayake by a Senior Assistant Secretary of the Presidential Secretariat and an officer of the Presidential Security Division. The President had said in his order that he was in agreement with the request for the removal of Chief Justice from office made in the said address of Parliament.”

Lawyers for the Chief Justice, Neelakandan and Neelakandan, offered no comment.

REASONS FOR REMOVAL: In a report submitted to Speaker, Chamal Rajapaksa, on Dec 8, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which investigated charges against the CJ said that she had flouted norms of good behaviour on three counts.

Firstly, she had transferred to her own bench, a case involving some Ceylinco Group companies which were constructing the Trillium Residencies in which she had an interest as the holder of a Power of Attorney given by a flat buyer, who happened to be her sister. Secondly, she had failed to declare, in her annual declaration of assets and liabilities, details of more than 20 bank accounts maintained in various banks. And thirdly, her husband, Pradeep Kariyawasam, was a suspect in a bribery case being heard in the Colombo Magistrate’s Court. As the Chief Justice with power to appoint, sack and transfer magistrates, she could influence the proceedings in that court. She should have stepped down to enable the legal process to proceed without undue influence being brought to bear on the court, the PSC said.

The CJ and the four opposition MPs in the 11-man committee walked out of the proceedings, saying that the PSC did not follow the norms of Natural Justice and did not allow the accused to call for and cross-examine witnesses and adequate time to prepare her defence.

With the result, the pro-government PSC submitted an ex parte report based on its own investigations and the testimony of its own witnesses.

The sacking is gone against rulings of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal which said that the PSC had no constitutional legitimacy and therefore, its findings had no basis in law.

The Supreme Court in its “determination” on the issue on Jan 3, had suggested to parliament that it make a “law” to try judges, instead of going by the “Standing Orders” of parliament which were not “law”, but were only rules of procedure for the house and to safeguard parliament’s privileges. But the government and Speaker had said that as per the constitution, only parliament could sack the CJ, and its Standing Order no: 78A governed impeachment.

On Friday the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma had appealed to the president to refrain from sacking the CJ. He pointed out that the constitutionality of the procedure had been questioned. He further said that Mr Rajapaksa should take into account the ramifications of his decision vis-à-vis the relationship between the legislature and the judiciary in a democracy.