By Ranjith Ananda Jayasinghe
With the Supreme Court giving a series of headline-hitting judgments in recent weeks, Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva said in an interview the Constitution was supreme and no one could break the law or was above the Constitution.
|Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva
In this interview with our sister paper Sunday Lankadeepa, he also denied some reports that he planned to enter politics and on the contrary said he wished to devote his time after retirement to religious activities.
Q: Much attention is now on the judiciary. More and more people are coming to the Supreme Court on issues of fundamental rights and related matters.
A: If people are being deprived of their fundamental rights and corrupt practices are taking place the people apparently believe they could turn to the judiciary for redress. At a time when there is a war in the country, different ethnic groups have different problems. They can get relief from the judiciary.
Q: By giving relief in some instances, isn’t there a risk of jeopardising national security?
A: We did not release people who are held on national security grounds, haphazardly. The only hope of relief for them is through the courts. As the subject of human rights
has become much broader now, there are many such cases.
Q: Aren’t many of the recommendations made by Parliament committees such as COPE and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) not properly implemented?
A: There appears to be a lot off lethargy in implementing some of the recommendations of these important parliamentary committees. They have to be dealt with by the Bribery and Corruption Commission. Some officials like those in the Police Department think they are above the law. This is shocking. What is happening now is that the Courts are telling the Bribery Commission and the Police to probe cases. It should really be the other way around.
Q: The Constitution guarantees immunity from prosecution for the executive president but the Supreme Court has ruled that this does not apply in certain instances. Could you clarify?
A: The people of country are sovereign. This sovereignty of the people is executed through the Executive the Legislature and the Judiciary. Our position is that everyone has a responsibility and if they act against this responsibility, then they lose immunity.
Q: Does this apply to the President?
A: We have taken the decision from the standpoint of the responsibility towards the people and the President is also bound by that. In other words what we are saying is that the Constitution of the country is supreme and no one is above it. There is no room for anyone to break the law and act in a manner detrimental to public interest. It is on these grounds that the Court ruling was made against the former President. The land for the Golf Course in Battaramualla was granted on a Cabinet paper submitted by the former President.
Q: If the President fails to carry out the responsibilities entrusted under the Constitution is that considered a violation of the Constitution?
A: Yes, by neglecting such duties, the people are deprived of the rights due to them.
Q: In such a situation does the Court have the right to direct the President?
A: Yes the Supreme Court has the right to direct him at times like that. The question of presidential immunity does not apply in such cases if it is one of public interest.
Q: Doesn’t the Constitution clearly guarantee immunity to the President from prosecution?
A: We cannot summon the President. The Attorney General can appear on behalf of the President in cases related to his work as a Minister. If not, someone else can appear on behalf of the President. But we will not give a judgement against the President. In the recently concluded Golf Course case, the reference was to a former president. As she no longer holds the post, we can give a judgement against her.
Q: When one is holding office of President, is it impossible to give judgement under any circumstances?
A: Recently the President had issued a gazette notice to extend the age of retirement of public servants. In such instances, the Court does not issue a ruling against the President but decides on the validity or non validity of the gazette notification. But these are not directed personally at the President or the former President. Only if they are asked to pay a fine does it become a personnel case.
Q: Your judgement to remove check points was a controversial one and caused uproar?
A: The cases with regards to road barricades came due to the irregularities that occur. That people are asked for bribes. Recently a man who was employed as an aluminium worker, was stopped at a check point. He was arrested and beaten up because he had a Kris knife and Rs 20, 000. He was arrested on the basis he had robbed the money at knife pointThis is wrong. Checks must be carried out in a responsible manner.
Q: Why did you rule that checkpoints on main roads be removed?
A: This is completely wrong. We did not order the check points removed. We wanted them regulated. On the day that the Eastern Province Chief Minister was being sworn in, a suicide cadre on a motorcycle slammed onto a police bus in Fort killing several people. He had come past three check points and was not detected. Terrorist are very tactful. Even a war hero and experienced military man like Janaka Perera misread them at one point. This was why he got caught to a bomb attack.
Q: All along the Duplication Road, there are sign boards saying “No parking.”?
A: This is illegal. We ordered that those boards be removed immediately. Additionally we asked that the public be allowed to use the Galle Face Green. But we have given no judgements that will jeopardise the security near the President’s House or Temple Trees.
Q: You have been a friend of the President for nearly 40 years. How is this friendship now?
A: I have been in public serve for 41 years. I have friends both in Government and the opposition. You asked about the President. We have given no judgements against him. If we give a ruling to stop corrupt practices, we are doing him a service.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I am eagerly awaiting the end of my tenure in office so I can devote my time to my personal religious activities.
Q: Are you getting ready to enter politics?
Q: There is speculation that you might be a candidate at the next President election?
A: No. It is completely wrong. I am not interested in politics.