Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratna has utopian ideals of how the judiciary works in this country. He told Parliament on Wednesday that “everyone is equal before the law” as the Constitution states, and hence people should place their faith in the system, and not take to the streets to challenge a court ruling with which they disagree.
“How can we build a civilized society by challenging a court ruling, when it is these same courts you turn to when aggrieved?” the Prime Minister queried opposition members when the motion to increase salaries of judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court was taken up on Wednesday.
“Protests challenging judicial decisions would be detrimental to the image of the country,” said the Premier.
However, his views on how the judiciary functions were not shared by opposition members, with UNP Kandy district MP Lakshman Kiriella stating that, "If you are with the government, you can get away with anything, if not, you are punished.” He made specific reference to the case of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, who, Mr. Kiriella said, was being persecuted, as he was not on the side of the government.
As is always the case with most members of the UNP and the SLFP led ruling party, they like to fall back on mistakes made in the past by each other’s party, to justify or cover up their misdeeds.
This time it was Minister Susil Premajayantha who accused the UNP of interfering with the independence of the judiciary while it was in power, and even going to the extent of introducing Constitutional amendments to deprive the then SLFP leader and former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of her civic rights.
DNA MP Vijitha Herath said that, despite equality before the law guaranteed to all citizens, the President is immune from prosecution while holding office. “Look at the manner in which Sarath Fonseka is being treated and the manner in which KP (LTTE international wing leader Kumaran Pathmanathan) is being treated. The government has failed to file a single charge against KP even in a lower court, while the former Army Commander has been locked up in jail. So where is the equal right before the law,” he said.
The DNA MP also said that, under the 18th Amendment, the President appoints judges, hence it is naïve to believe that these appointments are not politically motivated.
Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said the government respects the independence of the judiciary. Political, religious or ethnic differences are not considered when judges are appointed.
Whatever idealist views one may have on how the judiciary works in the country, it is no secret that, despite guarantees of equality before the law for every citizen, there are some who are ‘more equal than others’. And what needs to be remembered is that the Constitution also ensures every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression, which could be in the form of public protests, and which could mean questioning judicial decisions as well.