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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Impeachment: Weliamuna varies on Speaker’s ruling; Only President has legal immunity

 ■Only President has legal immunity; all others subject to jurisdiction
 ■Claims Privileges Act only restrains court action of freedom of speech and proceedings, not validity of Standing Orders
 ■Anura B’s ruling not a binding precedent
 ■Ex parte ruling by SC will be damaging to Parliament
All laws including the Parliamentary Power and Privileges Act should be interpreted subject to the Constitution, Constitutional Lawyer and former Executive Director, Transparency International Sri Lanka, J. C. Weliamuna said yesterday.

Presenting his observations on Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s ruling on notices issued by the courts on Members of Parliament, which sparked a new controversy between the legislature and the judiciary, Weliamuna said that Section 4 of the Parliamentary Power and Privileges Act only prohibits the courts from questioning the freedom of speech, debates and proceedings in the House. “It does not extend to the courts’ questioning of the Standing Orders of Parliament,” he said.

Weliamuna added that former Speaker Anura Bandaranaike’s ruling made in respect of Sarath Silva’s impeachment was not a binding precedent.

“It was based on the concept of Parliamentary supremacy which is misconceived in law as our Constitution does not recognise such a concept,” he said.

 Under the present Constitution, the people are supreme, the constitutional law expert added.

 According to Attorney Weliamuna, only the President cannot be summoned by court due to the immunity granted to him under Article 35 of the Constitution, but all others are subject to judicial review. “Any one taking objection to jurisdiction must raise it in Court,” he explained.

 With reference to the petitions filed in court challenging the impeachment process and the legality of the Parliamentary Select Committee set up by the Speaker, Weliamuna said that the Supreme Court cannot interpret the Constitution without legislators in the Committee contributing to the process. He said in that case, the Supreme Court ruling will be seen as ex-parte, which will be to the detriment of Parliament.

 Speaker Rajapaksa in a special address to Parliament on Thursday hailed the broad consensus that had emerged among legislators regarding the question of whether MPs were bound by notice issued by the courts and that the notices issued on himself and the 11 members of the PSC with regard to the petitions filed in Supreme Court citing them as respondents had no effect whatsoever.

“I would like to make particular motion of the view, clearly expressed by the Leader of the Opposition in the course of his intervention, that the purported notices constitute an unwarranted interference with the powers and procedures of Parliament and are invalid,” the Speaker told the House.

“I declare that the purported notices, issued to me and to the members of the select committee, are a nullity and entail no legal consequences. I wish to make it clear that this ruling of mine as Speaker of Parliament will apply to any similar purported Notice, Order or Determination in respect of the proceedings of the committee which will continue solely and exclusively under the authority of Parliament,” he said.

By Dharisha Bastians



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