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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Impeachment’ of the Chief Justice (Part 01)

Elmore Perera, Attorney-at-Law
“Sovereignty of the Sri Lankan People under the 1978 Constitution is one and indivisible. It remains with the People. It is only the exercise of certain Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of the Sovereign People that are delegated to the Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary under Article 4. Fundamental Rights and Franchise remain with the People and the Supreme Court has been constituted the guardian of such rights.” So stated Hon. Neville Samarakoon Q.C. arguably the most honorable, upright and independent Chief Justice that Sri Lanka has been fortunate to have. This was in October 1983 when, a 9-judge  bench of the Supreme Court considered important questions that concerned the jurisdiction,  dignity and the independence of the Supreme Court. 
Sharvananda J asserted that “Rule of Law is the foundation of the Constitution, and independence of the Judiciary and fundamental human rights are basic and essential features of the Constitution. There can be no free society without law administered through an independent Judiciary. The supremacy of the Constitution is protected by the authority of an independent judiciary to act as the interpreter of the Constitution.”   Actions of the

Executive are not above the law and can certainly be questioned in a Court of Law.   An intention to make acts of the President non-justiciable cannot be attributed to the  makers of the Constitution. The 9-judge bench held that “The President cannot be summoned to Court to justify his actions. But that is a far cry from saying that the President’s acts cannot be examined by a Court of Law.

A party who invokes the acts of the President in his support will have to bear the burden of demonstrating that such acts of the President are warranted by Law. The seal of the President will not be sufficient to discharge that burden.”

First attempt to impeach CJ

The President moved stealthily to impeach the Chief Justice with the aid of his steamroller 5/6th majority in Parliament. Article 107 of the 1978 Constitution,  stipulates that the Chief Justice shall not be removed except by an order of the President made after an address of Parliament supported by a majority of the total number of MPP has been presented to the President for such removal on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity, provided that the notice of such resolution

for the presentation of such address was signed by not less than one-third of the total number of MPP and set out full particulars of the alleged misbehavior or incapacity. Standing Order 78A relating to the presentation of such an address, sets out the procedure for the passing of such resolution, the investigation and proof of the alleged misbehaviour or incapacity and the right of the Chief Justice to appear and to be heard in person or by representative.

The Parliament appointed a select committee of 9 members (viz. R. Premadasa, Ranil Wickremasinghe Nissanka Wijeratne, R. Pathamanathan, M. L. M. Aboosally, Wasantha Udayaratne, Dr. S.Y.S.B.Herath, Lakshman Jayakody and Anil Moonesinghe  to inquire into and report on  a speech alleged to have been made by the Chief Justice at an Award Ceremony of a tutory on 14th March 1984. A majority of the members were of the view that all of the statements reported may not prove disrepute but they were not befitting an incumbent Chief Justice. Notwithstanding this finding a resolution signed by 57 MPP was placed on the Order Paper of September 5, 1984. A committee of nine MPs viz. Lalith Athulathmudali, Dr. Ranjit Atapattu, Festus Perera, C. Rajadurai, M. A. Abdul Majeed, Paul Perera, Anura Bandaranayake, Dinesh Gunawardene and Sarath Muttetuwegama was appointed to inquire and report. A majority of the members stated that “The Standard of proof required is very high. In all the circumstances of this case we cannot come to the conclusion that the Chief Justice is guilty of proved misbehavior. No further action was taken in this connection until the Chief Justice reached the mandatory age of retirement (65 years) on 21.10.1984 and retired. However these terror-tactics of the President, apparently compelled Sharvananda J (who was appointed Chief Justice on 29.10.1984) to hurriedly reverse radically his aforementioned assertion that “an intention to make acts of the President non-justiciable cannot be attributed to the makers of the Constitution”.

Wanasundera cherishes independence

Predictably, the consistent independence of Wanasundera J resulted in the Sovereign People being denied of his services as Chief Justice. All subsequent Chief Justices did not rock the Executive boat and therefore were never in fear of any threat of impeachment. The Sovereign People eagerly looked forward to the appointment of Mark Fernando J as Chief Justice in 1999 but regrettably then Attorney General Sarath N. Silva was identified by a VVIP of the PA Government as being the only individual who,  was capable of saving President Kumaratunga from the numerous  election petitions they were certain would be lodged against her, considering the manner in which they were conducting their campaign for her re-election in 1999, and duly appointed as Chief Justice by President Kumaratunga. He administered the Oath of Office of President to his benefactor not only in 1999 but once again secretly in 2000, demonstrating his total allegiance and subservience to the Executive. The Independence and integrity of the Judiciary was severely compromised not only by satisfying every whim of the Executive, but also by unleashing an era of intolerable judicial harassment.

Attempt to impeach CJ in 2001

Notice of a Resolution in 2001 for impeachment of the Chief Justice setting out full particulars of numerous instances of alleged misbehavior was entertained by the Speaker. An attempt by the Supreme Court to prevent the Speaker from proceeding with the inquiry was rejected by the Speaker. The President first prorogued and later dissolved Parliament and caused the motion to lapse, thus thwarting what appeared to be a certain impeachment. A second attempt to impeach this CJ was not pursued to its logical conclusion, in 2004.

This Chief Justice thereafter shifted his allegiance from President Kumaratunga to the Leader of the Opposition, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He now claims that it was  he “who was responsible to bring Rajapaksa into power, since Mahinda Rajapaksa  was freed to become President because of the decision of the Supreme Court Bench, headed by him, to clear him of allegations of misappropriation of Tsunami funds, expecting that Mahinda Rajapaksa,  in turn, would safeguard the rights of the other people”, and laments that “it is not happening today”.

At a meeting of the Judicial Service Commission on 30th December 2004 this Chief Justice abused Shirani Bandaranayake J, in vile language and conducted the affairs of the JSC in a dictatorial manner with the active connivance of then Secretary of the JSC, Chandra Jayatilaka (who has recently been appointed by the President as a Judge of the Court of Appeal overlooking the most Senior High Court Judge Malani Gunaratne, who was duly recommended by the Chief Justice). Having put up with this for more than an year in January 2006 Shirani Bandaranayake J andT.B. Weerasuriya J resigned from the three member Judicial Service Commission citing matters of conscience without publicising what the real cause was, In February 2006, President Rajapaksa,  who was a Senior Attorney-at-Law disregarded the well-known reasons for the resignations, and committed the impeachable offence of intentionally violating the Constitution by appointing Nihal Jayasinghe J as Acting Chief Justice (overlooking Bandaranayake J and Weerasuriya J, who were senior to him), and also Nihal Jayasinghe J and Udalagama J to the Judicial Service Commission to replace Bandaranayake J and Weerasuriya J, in patent violation of Art. 41C 1) of the Constitution. I petitioned the Supreme Court on 9th March2006 challenging these unlawful appointments and seeking an inquiry by the President and Parliament into the matters of conscience that led to the resignation of Bandaranayake J and Weerasuriya J. This was summarily dismissed on 31st March 2006 by refusing leave to proceed. Several actions were instituted by me in respect of all appointments made thereafter in violation of the Constitution, until six months later a Rule was issued on me for instituting and supporting the first application dated 9th March 2006. I was hurriedly suspended from practice as an Attorney-at-Law, in a clear demonstration of the Judiciary’s total commitment to support the Executive in all circumstances.

Sometime thereafter Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva turned against President Rajapaksa and issued several people friendly, landmark judgments strictly according to law. He even went to the extent of issuing notice on Mahinda Rajapaksa by name in an FR Application where he had been cited as a Respondent in violation of the Constitutional provision that prohibited his  being so cited, on the basis that “no one was above the law” in Sri Lanka.

As President of the Organisation of Professional Associations, I urged my friend Chamal Rajapaksa, then a Cabinet Minister to prevail on his younger sibling Mahinda Rajapaksa to exculpate himself from the “impeachable”   offence of intentionally violating the Constitution, by activating the Constitutional Council. I was invited to Temple Trees for a discussion of unspecified matters at 11.30 a.m. on 11th March 2008. Others present at this discussion included Lalith Weeratunga, C.R.de Silva (then Attorney General), Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe and D. E. W.Gunasekera, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera,Victor Ivan, Kumar Rupasinghe, Col. Faiz-ur-Rahman, and  Mahen Dayananda. D. E. W. Gunasekera initiated a discussion on the 17th Amendment. When the President specifically sought my views, at the instance of Victor Ivan, I read out Art 41C (1) which stated unequivocally  that “No person shall be appointed by the President as Chief Justice  or as a member of the Judicial Service Commission, unless such appointment had been approved by the Constitutional Council upon a recommendation made to the Council by the President”.

 It was Shirani that I wanted to appoint – MR
I stated that being a Senior Lawyer himself, the President was deemed to have been aware of this and therefore intentionally violated the Constitution in making these appointments and that the only remedy for such offence provided in the Constitution itself under Art 38(2) (a) was impeachment. I assured him that he would never be impeached because none of the 108 Ministers then in his Cabinet were likely to risk losing their portfolios for matters that did not concern them. Quite unconcerned, he asked me what if anything, I had done about this. I replied that the last thing I had done was to institute action challenging the validity of his appointment of Nihal Jayasinghe J as Acting Chief Justice overlooking Shirani Bandaranayake J.  Promptly he responded emphatically (in Sinhalese) saying “Aiyo! It was Shirani that I wanted to appoint. My good friend. She hails from Anuradhapura and is doing very good work. But it was Ranil no! Don’t you know when Ranil comes to the Constitutional Council, he does this and that and said that to be appointed as Chief Justice she must necessarily have served in the Judiciary for 25 years”. Taken aback and disappointed at Ranil’s  hypocrisy, I responded that “if that was true” it should have been publicized and I would then have filed action not against him, but against the Constitutional Council. The President immediately directed Lalith Weeratnga to give me “that document”. Lalith vigorously checked the documents for a full two to three minutes but could not locate any such document, and abandoned the search for (what I am now convinced was) a non-existent document, when the President directed him to “send it to Mr. Perera, tomorrow”. That ‘tomorrow’ has not dawned as yet and my several letters requesting same were of no avail.

On reaching retirement age in June 2009 S. N. Silva C. J. was duly retired. The 17th Amendment provisions were still operative, but notwithstanding his emphatic assertion aforementioned, made on 11th March 2008, once again the President intentionally violated the Constitution by by-passing Bandaranayake J and appointing Asoka Silva J as Chief Justice. In June 2009, the President appointed the spouse of Bandaranayake J. as Chairman, Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, for reasons best known to the President. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, Asoka Silva CJ was unable to take the high ground necessary to even attempt to clean the Augean Stables left by his predecessor, even, though much was expected from him. Without reversing one word of the scathing Supreme Court judgment re P. B. Jayasundera or permitting him to withdraw the affidavit allegedly extracted from him by Sarth N. Silva CJ by intimidation, he caved in and cleared the way for   his reappointment to the Public Service by the Executive.  He even ruled that the Court Martial was a Court for the purpose of Art. 89 (d) of the Constitution, thus depriving General Sarath Fonseka of his seat in Parliament.  Having consistently held the view that the 17th Amendment was better than the 18th amendment, he constituted a bench headed  by Bandaranayake J, (who would undoubtedly have sought the views/guidance of the Chief Justice in this matter of vital importance to the Sovereign People). The motions were hurriedly gone through and Bandaranayake J expeditiously signed and delivered a determination which catered to the President’s whim, but seriously undermined the inalienable Sovereignty of the people by declaring that no referendum was necessary to reveal the 17th Amendment.

Appointment of present CJ 

Bandaranayake J was appointed as Chief Justice to succeed Asoka Silva CJ in May 2010. On 15th May 2010 her spouse was appointed Chairman, National Savings Bank by the President. Having assumed the office of Chief Justice, Bandaranayake CJ purposefully embarked on the long overdue cleansing of the Augean Stables, and slowly but surely asserted herself as Chief Justice. Manjula Thilakaratne, who was the 6th in seniority of those eligible, was appointed Secretary of the JSC. The Registrar of the Supreme Court and several other officers whose dealings were suspect were transferred out. Some kind of order was restored and the qualitym of judicial activity clearly improved. Interference with the Judiciarymwas resisted. The CJ and the JSC had decided that an independent Judiciary was imperative for Sri Lanka, and strenuously worked towards machieving it.

Minister Bathiudeen allegedly threatened a Judge in Mannar to render an ordermin a case in that Court  as desired by him. Subsequently the Court was stoned. Pressure was exerted on the Secretary of them Judicial Service Commission  to get the said Judge transferred.

The Supreme Court’s Determination in the Divineguma Bill was interpreted by the Executive as a move to undermine the Executive and the state controlled media launched scathing attacks on the Judiciary. Judge Aravinda Perera was suspended by the JSC for unacceptable conduct. In such circumstances the JSC was requested to meet the President for undisclosed reasons but this request was politely declined.

On the 16th September 2012 as directed by the JSC, the Secretary of the JSC, ManjulaThilakaratne, issued an unprecedented statement to keep the majority of the public who value justice informed about a conspiracy to destroy the credibility of the JSC and the Judiciary, emphasizing that the JSC was dedicated to carrying out its responsibility to protect the independence of the Judiciary and discharge its service without being intimated by influences, threats or criticism.  On Sunday 7th October 2012, morning the Secretary of the JSC was attacked in Mount Lavinia and the assailants have still not been apprehended.

On 8th October Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, with the concurrence of the party Leaders, took exception to the fact that the Supreme Court determination on the Divineguma Bill had been delivered to the Secretary General of Parliament and not to the Speaker, contending that it was  tantamount to the Secretary General being substituted for the Speaker, which in his opinion required a Constitutional amendment. The Speaker has apparently not stated that the Determination has been addressed to the Secretary General and not to the Speaker. He seems to have only stated that it was delivered to the Secretary General. He has however admitted specifically that the Supreme Court has been vested with the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to interpret any Constitutional Provisions.  He has, apparently, failed to realize that the normal practice of delivery to the Secretary General of Parliament of a determination addressed to the Speaker is, certainly in accordance with widely prevailed practice in
Sri Lanka and, at any rate is in the opinion of the Supreme Court a sufficient compliance with the Provisions of Art. 121 (3) of the Constitution, and that, in all probability the President’s copy of the determination is always delivered to the President’s Secretary and not to the President.
– The Island


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