Cabinet ministers received urgent telephone calls last Wednesday to turn up at “Temple Trees,” now the official residence of the President, an hour ahead of the weekly meeting that evening. Soon after they gathered at 6 p.m. a strategy session on how to cope with matters relating to the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake [...]


Govt. toughens its stand on CJ issue as crisis grows

= JSA, BASL, Congress of Religions, Commonwealth and international groups issue strong statements
= President says he will act according to his conscience and appoint an independent committee to review proceedings, but expresses different view at meeting with media bosses

Cabinet ministers received urgent telephone calls last Wednesday to turn up at “Temple Trees,” now the official residence of the President, an hour ahead of the weekly meeting that evening.

Soon after they gathered at 6 p.m. a strategy session on how to cope with matters relating to the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake began. The immediate focus was a general membership meeting of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) scheduled for yesterday.

The BASL discussed further measures to oppose the impeachment and adopted resolutions. One of the resolutions adopted was not to welcome any new appointee to the office of the Chief Justice. The three resolutions are:

  •  In the light of the speech made by His Excellency the President on 11th December 2012 to evaluate the report of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee of the impeachment against the Chief Justice through an independent committee, we urge His Excellency to re-consider the impeachment.
  •  In the event His Excellency the President and/or the Hon. Members of Parliament who are signatories to the impeachment resolution wish to proceed with it further, we urge His Excellency the President, the Hon. Speaker and the Parliament to formulate and enact procedural laws in relation to removal of the Judges of the Superior Courts while ensuring a fair trail by adhering to principles of natural justice before further proceedings are taken on the said impeachment.
  • In the event the incumbent Chief Justice is removed without giving an opportunity to have a fair trial in compliance with rules of natural justice, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka shall not welcome the newly appointed Chief Justice.

Coming in for serious criticism during the Cabinet discussion was BASL President Wijayadasa Rajapakshe. Hence, it was felt that lawyers backing the Government should move a vote of no-confidence against him. Minister Maithripala Sirisena said a co-ordinated campaign should be launched to counter the anti-government campaign by those opposing the impeachment. For this purpose, he said, Ministers and MPs would liaise closely with provincial and local government politicians. They would organise protests outside courthouses in the districts and hold other events to educate the people.

The strategy session was due to conclude when President Rajapaksa arrived for the meeting. In brief closing remarks, he said the Government should watch the developments carefully. What played out at the BASL sessions yesterday appears elsewhere today in the Sunday Times. Thereafter, Rajapaksa and his ministers adjourned to the cabinet room at “Temple Trees” at 7 p.m. for the weekly meeting. Since ministers had aired their views on the impeachment at the strategy session, events at the Cabinet were routine and devoted to the approval of memoranda.

"Neethi Kekulu", the annual celebrations with children of lawyers taking part in various events was held recently with Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke as the Chief Guest. Here Chief Justice Bandaranayke arrives for the event at the Tower Hall in Maradana. Pix by Susantha Liyanawatta

Among them was one titled “From Conflict to Stability – 2009 to 2012″ presented by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. The report from the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security – a body which he chairs — spelt out matters relating to development activity in the North and the resettlement of displaced persons. It also dealt with major economic and social infrastructure required for long term-economic development in the area. Whilst tabling the English copy of the report, he said the Sinhala and Tamil texts would be released when ready.

Yet, the Government’s and the legal fraternity appeared to be preoccupied with the impeachment resolution. The findings of Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC)’s seven government MPs who held that Chief Justice Bandaranayake was guilty on three counts, continue to generate controversy. At least for a while it appeared that the Government was veering towards softening its stance in the backdrop of severe criticism and discontent.

However, soon the position was officially clarified thereafter and it turned out it had toughened once more. Between the softening and the toughening there appeared to be a political storm within the Government. Here is the sequence of events.

On Tuesday, President Rajapaksa announced that he would appoint “an independent committee and obtain a further report”. His remarks came during a speech he made in Sinhala after declaring open a new building complex for the Institute of Chartered Accountants at Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera Mawatha in Colombo 7. He was responding to the issue which was raised by a previous speaker, Consumer Affairs Minister Johnston Fernando. The announcement did cause ripples in many sectors. There was discomfort among government members of the PSC. They were unsure why another “committee” should conduct a probe on their own findings.

A larger concern was expressed by many parliamentarians, both government and the opposition.
Since the Parliament “is supreme,” they argued that, any other committee or body formally conducting a review of PSC findings would raise serious issues over the supremacy of the legislature. Hence, they contended that it ran counter to the Government’s repeatedly articulated position that Parliament was “supreme”. President Rajapaksa seems to have taken another about-turn towards the hard-line position. The Government’s original position was then re-iterated once more at his breakfast meeting on Thursday morning with editors of national newspapers, heads of television and radio stations.
Taking the centre stage at the event were PSC Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and its six government members. First to edited excerpts of an English translation of what Rajapaksa said at the Institute of Chartered Accountants:

“……………If there is a constitution it should be respected. If there is an organisation of the accountants you should act according to the constitution of the organisation. You will not keep any person who goes against the constitution. Even in our country too we have a system which is linked to the constitution. Our constitution is more than 30 years. It is the late J.R. Jayewardene’s constitution. Even if I am at fault it is only the Parliament which could punish me. I cannot be taken to courts. An impeachment motion can be brought against me in Parliament. However, the day they bring the motion, I cannot dissolve Parliament. If a public official faces charges he or she is interdicted and an inquiry is held. Depending on the outcome, action is taken.

“Regarding the Chief Justice it is mentioned how the Chief Justice could be punished. There is no court which the Chief Justice could be produced before. It is Parliament which could punish the Chief Justice. There was an instance where a motion was brought to Parliament against a Judge from Kegalle. A female lawyer who presented her cases before this judge always got favourable judgments. But the actual issue was that the Judge had mentioned something against a former President. But he (the Judge) never went to break coconuts. He resigned and settled the matter. An impeachment was brought against former Chief Justice Sarath Silva, but it could not be investigated as Parliament was dissolved. Usually the opposition opposes any motion. During the impeachment motion against former Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, we came to say it was illegal. That is the duty of the opposition. When I was in the opposition whenever anything happened I took to the streets and protested. That is the duty of the opposition, whether it is wrong or right. It happens even now.

“I want to say something about today’s situation as well since it was mentioned earlier. People may misunderstand. The Chairman of National Savings Bank (Pradeepa Kariyawasam, husband of the Chief Justice) was appointed by us. We appointed the Chief Justice. There were allegations against the Chairman (NSB) that he bought shares at a higher value. It was making headlines every day. I called P.B. Jayasundera (Treasury Secretary) and the relevant people. I told them we will get the money back and managed to shape the matter. That’s the way how things are done for our people. So we managed to shape the matter. The opposition went ahead and lodged a complaint with the Bribery Commission. We were not aware. The opposition said he should be punished. It was not me who said that. The government members were also silent. It was they (opposition) who went to the Bribery Commission. It was the opposition which first told the newspapers that they would bring an impeachment motion. It was told by the General Secretary of the UNP (Tissa Attanayake). I know most of those present here are those who vote for the UNP.
“That is why I think it is the best place to say that I am not at fault. I was silent on this matter. Some of our members signed the impeachment motion and brought it saying we cannot take it any longer. I did not like it too much. However, once it comes to Parliament, a committee has to investigate it. The charges were not only against the husband, but also against the wife. They had found the details. That is the usual form, when a person is failing; the information comes in from those who are against the person. Even during elections it takes place. That is how it happened and came to me. Now it is before Parliament. I am sorry about it. I am also a lawyer, a professional. I am against undermining the judiciary. If somebody makes a mistake it should not be spoken of in public. This is a problem to the judicial system. Once it is brought to the public domain, even with regret we have to speak about it. This matter has been politicised unnecessarily. Whenever an investigation is started, today it is the best way to go to the other side and say this is a job of the Government to sling mud. Once the report comes we can see what points are made in the report. However, we cannot speak of it for another month. Parliament will debate it after a month and decide.

“Though it will be compulsory for me to act on that report, I hope to appoint an independent committee and obtain a further report on this. Before I act on this I will study this. I have to answer to my conscience. I should be satisfied. I should be satisfied that I have done my task correctly. I am ready to further study it. This is my advice. It is not written in any book. There is no law about it. I will do it to ensure that I am satisfied. We have the responsibility to fulfil our duties….”

Even if Rajapaksa had chosen to have an “independent committee,” to go into the PSC findings, on Thursday it was made clear that it would in no way interfere with the government’s plan of action next month. That is to debate the impeachment resolution in Parliament and remove Chief Justice Bandaranayake. The Government’s tough line of action was reflected during the regular news briefing ahead of Rajapaksa’s breakfast session with national newspaper editors, heads of television and radio stations. Here is an edited transcript of what transpired:

“Those present: Ministers: Keheliya Rambukwella, Wimal Weerawansa, Maithripala Sirisena, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dilan Perera, Basil Rajapaksa and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga.
President: We make news when you do not have news. Today the ‘Nadukara Hamuduruwos’ (‘judges’) – Members of the Parliamentary Select Committee — are here and you can ask them questions.

Q: There have been various reports about the PSC sittings and you have commented about appointing an independent committee. Can you explain?

President: The parliament procedure will continue. When any report usually comes to me, I will get somebody to look at it and tell me the facts. This is not because of an issue involving the credibility of the Parliamentary Select Committee. That is the normal process which follows.
Even in the Philippines there have been similar allegations where the Chief Justice has failed to declare assets. Assets should be declared by any public servant.

Q:Some opposition party members have said that you had received a call from the US President regarding this matter.

President: That is something which the opposition says regularly. Nobody called me.

Q: Can we have something from the ‘judges’ (members of the PSC panel)?

President – Jokingly: “The ‘CJ’ (reference to Minister Anura Piyadharshana Yapa) has not come. He is on the way.” (Yapa arrives).

Q: What happened during the sittings? There have been various reports about the remarks made against CJ Bandaranayake. What do you have to say?

Yapa: We treated them well. Normally it is only one lawyer who gets permission. But in this case we gave the opportunity for several of them including her law firm to represent her. On the first day Romesh de Silva, PC thanked us about the arrangements made. We provided some documents to them, but all of these documents were available with them. We said if there was a problem we were ready to discuss. There were no derogatory comments made. The records will be available and you could see it yourself.
Minister Susil Premjayantha: There was an instance when Romesh asked for a postponement of the sittings as he had to attend a case in the Supreme Court and we gave permission.

President: Was it a case before the CJ?

Minister Premjayantha: Mr. Neelakandan wrote a letter, the day after they withdrew from the PSC, but made no complaints in it regarding these issues.

Minister Wimal Weerawansa: When the records come, you can find out the truth. My observation is that from the beginning they were planning to walk out from the sittings. They started off with a debate about taking of oaths and said that this could be done only when evidence begins. They could not respond to the allegations and therefore left midway.

Minister Dilan Perera: When former CJ Neville Samarakoon was called before the PSC, he was checked at the entrance to Parliament. It was Minister Dinesh Gunawardena who intervened and brought him in his car. But in this case the lawyers too were given special preference. Even the seating arrangements were re-arranged so that it was convenient for them to advise the CJ. If a Minister is called before courts and if he left abruptly, he would be remanded for contempt of Court.

Minister Premjayantha: The Constitution and the Standing Orders clearly explain the procedure to be followed.

President: These procedures were in existence, we did not bring them. Also it was Tissa Attanayake (UNP General Secretary) who first said that an impeachment motion should be brought against the Chief Justice. Later MPs Dayasiri Jayasekara, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Harsha de Silva mentioned this. It was the opposition who called for her removal after allegations against her husband surfaced. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has powers to remove judges from the other courts such as the Magistrate and High Courts.

Minister Dilan Perera: JSC Secretary Manjula Tilakaratne explained the procedure on the removal of the judges. He said that a preliminary inquiry is held and they are interdicted while the inquiry is pending.
Minister Premjayantha: The Standing Orders say that the PSC process should be completed in a month. We were ready to obtain an extension.

President: In the response given by the CJ she is reported to have responded to part of a judgment and left out another part. She has suppressed information. That alone is a serious charge.

Minister Dilan Perera: During the inquiry it was revealed that a Rs. 1.6 million discount has been given to the CJ on the transaction on purchasing an apartment from the Trillium Residencies (for her brother-in-law). It was revealed by Justice Shirani Tilkawardena that she did not voluntarily opt out of the (Golden Key) cases which she was hearing in the Supreme Court.

Q: Is it correct that you (Yapa) had said that there was no necessity for cross examination?

Minister Yapa: What I said was that the PSC follows a different procedure. Matters are decided by going into documents. I told them to inform me if there are any documents that they disapprove and that a decision could be taken to call witnesses to disprove the documents. We in fact sent them copies of the Standing Orders at the beginning. It says that oral and documentary evidence can be called for.

Q: What do the Standing Orders say about the composition of the PSC?

Minister Premajayantha: They say not less than seven members should be appointed and the quorum should be more than half the number of members. When Neville Samarakoon’s case was taken up the government (UNP) had seven members and there were two from the opposition.

Q: Why were charges 6 to 14 not investigated?

Minister Premajayantha: They were more administrative issues pertaining to appointments, inquiries. There was one about following procedure regarding informing Speaker when a petition is filed. On that one the Speaker had already made a ruling. We had evidence on all of them, but did not go through.

Q: Why was Ms. Bandaranayake appointed to the post as Chief Justice?

President: She was the most senior person and therefore we appointed her.
Minister Premajayantha: The UNP brought persons from outside and appointed them. There are seven instances.

Q: What happens if a Court order is given on the PSC?

President: The powers of the Executive and the Parliament are clearly mentioned in the Constitution and therefore that is not an issue. Also there are previous rulings from the Speaker on this matter.

Q: Will there be amendments made regarding the appointment of the PSC in future?

Minister Weerawansa: When the impeachment motion against former CJ Sarath Silva was brought, the UNP did not call for members from the Commonwealth.

President: These procedures were in place when I came. I did not bring this. There are petitions coming to say that in some courts the husband is practising as a lawyer when his wife is the judge in the same court. What do I do about this?

Minister Yapa: We have got petitions from Court Registrars that there are unfair promotions.

Q: Can an acting CJ be appointed?

President: That situation has not arisen as yet. I have not even considered that possibility.

Q: Will there be any changes in the procedures?

President: If things are not clear, it should be made clear. But whenever there are inquires against a public servant he is first interdicted and sometimes half the salary is paid during that period. If it is a charge regarding misappropriation no salary is paid. However failure to declare assets is a matter where you can end up in jail.

Minister Weerawansa: When an allegation is brought a person holding high office should behave in a manner that is suitable for that position. No public servant acts like a politician. Whether the charges are correct or not is a different matter. That could be seen when the investigation report is out. Whatever may be the investigations, we challenge them to disprove the findings of the PSC. Tell us whether it is right or wrong. If they say it is wrong we will prove it.

President: The Hulftsdorp has now turned to be another Lipton circus. JVP and UNP members are protesting there.

Minister Premajayantha: The current Bar Association president, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, in 2007 crossed over from the government and tried to defeat the budget. This was when the operations against the terrorist were in progress. If the budget was defeated we would not have been able to defeat the LTTE.
Minister Yapa: The BASL has members from all parties representing different views.

Minister Dilan Perera: One thing we should remember that several of the lawyers appearing for the CJ are those who represented Lalith Kothalawala, his wife and another member in the Ceylinco Group.

President: The CJ lives somewhere near Royal Park, decides to go all the way to Hulftsdorp and then come to parliament for PSC sittings. Some people are trying to take advantage of her. This issue has been politicised. Some say they are looking for a third common candidate. She may be happy with the publicity she is getting with the pictures appearing on page one of newspapers.

Q: What is your response to the opposition walkout?

President: If we were in the opposition we would have stayed on (in the PSC) and given a dissenting report.

Q: Can they bring a dissenting report now?

President: They can’t do that because the committee’s functions are over.
Minister Premajayantha: One month is given to the PSC to take up such allegations. They are against those who are holding high office and their names needs to be cleared soon.

Q: The CJ is continuing to hear cases. How ethical is this?

President: The people will have to decide. However, it is clear that it is not ethical.
Minister Weerawansa: Those who formulated the Constitution may not have thought that persons of such calibre would hold such high position.

President: When there was an allegation against former Judge Mahanama Tilakaratne he refrained from hearing cases during the period of investigations.

Q: Sometimes politicians too do not declare assets 

Minister Premajayantha: If MPs and public servants do not declare their assets action can be taken against them. However, when the allegation is brought against someone who holds high office it is different. They should set high standards.

On Wednesday, Chief Justice Bandarnayake’s lawyers issued a statement signed by Saliya Pieris, one of the counsel. It said that she is “yet to be issued a copy of the evidence and the findings.”
“As soon as she is furnished with the same,” the statement said, “the Chief Justice will respond to the report of the Government Members and to the ex-parte evidence which was given in her absence, without any notice being given to her and which was given devoid of cross-examination. The Chief Justice re-iterates that if the said witnesses were cross-examined by her counsel, she would have been able to demonstrate the untruthfulness of the evidence of the key witnesses hurriedly summoned.

“The Chief Justice’s position is that the findings of the Government Parliamentarians in the Select Committee do not constitute a report of the Select Committee since the Opposition Members on the Select Committee had withdrawn from the proceedings and they were not given an opportunity to submit their observations. The proceedings before the Government Members of the Select Committee are fundamentally flawed since the proceedings were unfair, conducted without a proper procedure being adopted, conducted without giving the Chief Justice an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and without observing the rules of natural justice or the elementary standards of fairness. In fact after the Chief Justice was informed that only documentary evidence will be used at the inquiry, after the Chief Justice walked out of the Select Committee, the very next day sixteen witnesses were called and their evidence led without any notice to the Chief Justice and without making them available for cross-examination.”

On Thursday night PSC Chairman Anura Priyadharshana Yapa and one of its members Dilan Perera were on a live talk-show on state television networks, expressing their views on the Chief Justice’s impeachment issue. During the show lasting more than two hours, they responded to allegations levelled at the committee and urged lawyers and judges not to listen to “misleading campaigns” by sections of lawyers. “We are urging the public to look at the allegations and the findings of the committee, but not at the manner it was investigated,” Minister Perera said. He said the post of Chief Justice was a highly respected position and therefore there could not be allegations kept for a long period. That was the reason to expedite the inquiry. “However we were ready to give more time if it was required. But the CJ walked out of it before we could decide on it,” he added.

The Lawyers Collective, a group backing CJ Bandaranayake, said in a statement on Friday that they called upon “the public not to be misled by the shameless, malicious and false propaganda (of the government)….”
Also on Friday, counsel for CJ Bandaranayake hand delivered a letter to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa. Referring to proceedings of the PSC, the letter signed by Neelakandan and Neelakandan states:
“We wish to draw your attention to the manner in which some members of the Select Committee conducted themselves and request you to take action which you consider appropriate. The Chief Justice was insulted. The gestures made and mannerisms were totally unacceptable. Some of the words used were inter alia the following: “Pissu gaani,” ” Api Me Nonava Methana Thiyagena Madawanawa,” “Babaa” – ” Naa Baba hukung (sic)”, “Usaviye Nadagam Natanawa,” “Meyaata Adamla Godak Innawa”, “Babaa Wage Hitiyata Babaa Wage Weda Nee.”

“We trust you will agree that such behaviour is inappropriate in any circumstances. It must be so when the Respondent is the Chief Justice of the country and a lady at that,” the letter added.

Stronger comments came from the Judicial Services Association (JSA) which has among its members Judges and Magistrates throughout the country. Its President is A.K.M. Patabendige, Additional District Judge of Kurunegala and its Secretary is Pradeep Jayatilleke, Additional District Judge of Colombo. They said in a statement on Friday: “We, the Judicial Service Association (JSA), as the sole representative body of the judicial officers of Sri Lanka, strongly feel and record our considerable concern that the Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayke did not get a fair hearing at the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) proceedings in terms of natural justice and fair trial in coming to its finding.

“We are of the view that the PSC did not qualify in terms of the constitutional requirements to conduct an inquiry for the removal of a Chief Justice as a genuine tribunal. Such a tribunal must be an impartial judicial body. The composition, procedure and the very conduct of some members of the PSC failed to meet the basic standards expected of an impartial tribunal.

“The JSA is extremely concerned and shocked about the fact that the Chief Justice was insulted and humiliated by two members of the PSC forcing the Chief Justice and her lawyers to walk out in protest against this outrageous situation. We are also concerned about the behavior of certain media institutions maintained by tax payers’ money and their conduct in contempt of PSC proceedings and also in contempt of the entire judiciary.

“Security of tenure of office of judges is paramount importance to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. United Nations Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary guarantee to every judge the right to a fair hearing and an independent review of removal proceedings (item 17 and 20). Article 12 (1) of the Constitution guarantees equality and equal protection of the law and, Article 13 (5) the presumption of innocence. In the PSC proceedings, the Chief Justice was not allowed to exercise the basic fundamental rights enjoyed by ordinary civilians of this country as enshrined in the Constitution. Chief Justice and her lawyers were not given fair trial guarantees enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sri Lanka is a party.

“The impeachment process has proceeded against the Chief Justice irrespective of the request made by the Supreme Court to delay proceedings until it makes a determination on the question for reference made by the Court of Appeal on constitutionality of standing Order 78 A . The PSC has been appointed disregarding the objections taken on the basis of serious legal grounds – that the removal of a superior court judge should be preceded by an inquiry of an impartial tribunal consisting of judicial officers.

“The Maha Nayakes and the other religious dignitaries, the academics, professionals and people from many other walks of life who, in the recent weeks, have expressed considerable concern over the impeachment process which has come under severe attack in Sri Lanka, as well as by authoritative statements from important international sources such as the Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth Association of Judges and Lawyers, the United Nations, International Committee of Jurists, Law Asia and from persons of high international repute, including Sri Lanka’s most senior judge Dr. C.G. Weeramantry.
“We urge His Excellency the President not to act on the findings of the PSC. We urge Parliament to enact necessary legislation or amend the existing Standing Orders in terms of Article 107 (3) to ensure setting up of fair, transparent, and impartial tribunal which would guarantee due process to probe the allegations of misbehavior of the chief Justice and other Apex Court Judges.”

That is not all. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) reacted to Rajapaksa’s remarks at the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Its General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said in a detailed statement that the Government should heed the call by UNP leade Ranil Wickremesinghe, “to adhere to the Commonwealth principles as adopted in the Latimer House Declaration which requires a panel of judges to be appointed to conduct an independent and impartial inquiry.” This declaration sets out Commonwealth principles on the relationship between parliament, the judiciary and the executive in member countries.
The statement added: “…………..the Working Committee of the UNP decided to request President Rajapaksa to make arrangements to enact the Private Members Bill titled “Removal of Superior Court Judges (Special Provisions)” presented to Parliament by Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, MP, as an urgent Bill, and thereafter to appoint an independent committee consisting of three Commonwealth Judges as provided in Section 3 of the proposed Bill. The provisions contained in the Bill ensure a fair hearing to the judges when resolutions are moved to remove them from the office they hold. The Working Committee considers that the enactment of this Bill will be the most appropriate step to be taken to resolve the conflict amongst the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.”

The UNP statement came as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), the Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA) and the Commonwealth Magistrate’s and Judges Association (CMJA) expressed concern “over developments surrounding the impeachment” of the CJ. A statement issued by them on Thursday said:

“….Sri Lanka, as a member of the Commonwealth, is expected to adhere to the fundamental values and principles of the Commonwealth which includes the provision of an independent and impartial judiciary that can only be removed by proper process on grounds of incapacity or gross misconduct. In monitoring reports of the impeachment proceedings the Associations are very concerned that The Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship between the Three Branches of Government (2003), have been ignored and that as a result the judiciary and the Rule of Law have been severely damaged.”

The statement added: “We endorse the Statement made by the International Commission of Jurists on 6 December 2012 and have made representations to the Commonwealth Secretariat General on this issue as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and note the Commonwealth Secretary General’s statement of 12 December 2012….”

The Congress of Religions, a body comprising representatives of all religions in Sri Lanka, said in a statement on Friday that it was concerned over the rejection by the Government of the recommendation of the Supreme Court to postpone the impeachment proceedings, until it has made up its mind on the constitutional competence of a Parliamentary Select Committee. Frontline leaders who have signed the statement are Ven. Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Anunayake Thera, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Anunayake Thera, Cardinal Dr. Malcolm Ranjith (Archbishop of Cololmbo), Archbishop Emeritus Oswald Gomis, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Al Haj Javid Yusuf on behalf of Muslims and Kurukkal Sivashri K. Sharma on behalf of the Hindus.

Their statement added: “….We cannot help thinking that this move to impeach the Chief Justice is another instance of the breakdown of law and order in the country. We publicly profess adherence to religious values, of all four major religions, and as such believe we should always work for a dharmista society. In addition to the social and moral evils pervading our society today, the apparent assault on the freedom of the judiciary would only add to the contradiction of that belief in real life….”

With the stepping up of its campaign, the Government is determined to carry through the resolution for the impeachment of the CJ, its first major task in Parliament in the New Year. That no doubt will see the emergence of a new Chief Justice.

The critical question would still be how far the legal fraternity will continue its own campaign. The magnitude of the crisis shows that the repercussions from the issues that arise would be felt for a long period, both in Sri Lanka and abroad.

The irony of it all is that this very legal fraternity that vehemently protested at the appointment of this very Chief Justice as a Judge of the Supreme Court some years back now strongly defends her in what it sees as a politically motivated campaign by the Rajapaksa Government to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

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