The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) in a controversial ruling has found Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke guilty of three out of five counts outlined in a resolution submitted by the ruling party parliamentarians.
The verdict of the PSC was reached in haste, in the absence of the chief justice, who had pulled out of the PSC hearing, challenging the integrity of the very committee. Her concerns ring true and reflect the feelings of a wider section of the saner Sri Lankan populace. It has been our long held contention that the verdict of this so called PSC is a foregone conclusion. Now, our fears have come true. We are stunned, shocked and helpless. We believe that this should be the feeling of the overwhelming majority of self-respecting Sri Lankan citizens.
During the previous hearings of the PSC, the head of the Judiciary in Sri Lanka, the chief justice was, allegedly, ridiculed by the ruling party lawmakers in the committee, who called her a ‘mad woman.’ She was also intimidated by the ‘protestors’ of the ruling party orchestrated demonstrations. It was patently obvious from the outset that the current regime was hell bent on getting rid of the chief justice by hook or by crook and the psychological threat unleashed on her and her legal panel was part of that game plan.
The conduct of the PSC itself was lopsided and ridiculed the basic tenets of dispending justice.
Chief Justice Bandaranayake was not given access by the PSC to documents supporting 14 charges levelled against her; her lawyers were not allowed to cross examine the witnesses. She was given 1000 pages of documentation and told to respond within less than 24 hours.
We have no hesitation to call this a travesty of justice. There is definite evidence to prove that this government has indulged itself in a witch-hunt. It appears that another potential dissenting voice against the consolidation of the executive powers has been silenced, this time with the aid of a crocked PSC.
The head of the legal profession, who is meant to deliver justice to the citizens, has become a victim of the lopsided Parliamentary Select Committee. Her crime, it appears, is that she stood against the controversial Divineguma Bill and referred it to a referendum.
The pathetic state of affairs in Sri Lanka is that domestic mechanisms that are meant to protect democratic rights of its citizens, including its judges, have become instruments that cater to the whims and fancies of the ruling cohort. The disgraced PSC ruling is another case in point.
As far as the PSC is concerned, it is imperative to note that the constitutionality of Standing Order 78 A, under which it was set up by the peaker, the elder brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa itself has been challenged in a series of Fundamental Rights petitions now being heard by the Supreme Court.
The Speaker disregarded Supreme Court directives. But, the mature democracies in the West exhibit a much greater degree of respect towards the Judiciary, and by extension towards the democratic rights of their citizens. The relationship between the Indian Judiciary and its legislature is a case in point. Such mechanism of checks and balances are virtually absent in this country.
The PSC ruling, which is likely to culminate into the impeachment of the chief justice would further dilute the existing largely nominal instruments that are meant to keep tabs on the excessive powers of the executive. The PSC ruling, its flawed procedure and the impending impeachment of the chief justice are proof of grave crisis in democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
We are on a free fall to become an absolute monarch. If this trend persists, it will not be long before the citizens of this country would become subjects within their own country.