Impeaching a President: Understanding the process Sub Article (2) of Article 38 of the Second Republican Constitution (1978) is the provision that deals with impeachment of Presidents. It is necessarily the Parliament that can remove a President from office by impeachment. This can happen only on the passing of a Resolution by the Parliament to [...]


Letters to the Editor


Impeaching a President: Understanding the process

Sub Article (2) of Article 38 of the Second Republican Constitution (1978) is the provision that deals with impeachment of Presidents. It is necessarily the Parliament that can remove a President from office by impeachment. This can happen only on the passing of a Resolution by the Parliament to that effect.

For purposes of this brief note, such resolution can be called the ‘final resolution’. Such a final resolution will have to be passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament voting in its favour. This means that at least 150 members must vote for such a resolution. However, the Parliament is empowered to do this only upon a report by the Supreme Court.   So, how does the process start?

For the Supreme Court to make such report, the process will have to begin in the Parliament itself.  Any Member of Parliament may give to the speaker a written Notice of a Resolution. Such Notice of Resolution must allege either one or both of two grounds specified. The first one is that the President is permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office by reason of mental or physical infirmity. The second one is that the President has been guilty of any or more of the five matters specified, namely (i) intentional violation of the Constitution, (ii) treason, (iii) bribery, (iv) misconduct or corruption involving the abuse of the powers of office of the President, or (v) any offence under any law involving moral turpitude. Such Notice must set out full particulars of the allegation/s.  It must also seek an inquiry and report thereon by the Supreme Court.

No such Notice shall be entertained by the Speaker, or placed on the Order Paper unless it is signed by not less than one half of the whole number of Members of Parliament (minimum of 113). However, in this situation the Speaker must necessarily be satisfied that the said allegation/s merit inquiry and report by the Supreme Court.  In the event not less than two-thirds of the whole number of members (minimum 150) have signed such Notice, then the Speaker is, by necessary implication, required to entertain it and place it on the Order Paper, irrespective of the Speaker being so satisfied.

The next step?

Such resolution, which for the purposes of this discussion can be called the ‘initial resolution’, needs the passage by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of the members (a minimum of 150) voting in its favour.  If and where it is so passed, the Speaker shall refer the allegation/s contained in such initial resolution to the Supreme Court for inquiry and report.

The Supreme Court is then required to hold an inquiry into the matter. The President sought to be impeached has the right to appear and a right of audience.  The Supreme Court is required to report to Parliament thereon. Such Report shall contain the determinations of the Supreme Court, and the reasons therefor.

Where the Supreme Court reports to Parliament that the President concerned is permanently incapable of discharging the functions of office of the President by reason of mental or physical infirmity, then the Parliament is entitled to remove the President by passing a resolution to remove the President (the final resolution mentioned above). Similarly, where the Supreme Court reports that the President concerned is guilty of any or more of the matters mentioned above, then too the Parliament is entitled to remove the President by passing such a final resolution. Such final resolution needs to be passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of members voting in favour.  Upon such a final resolution being so passed, the impeachment process comes to completion.

The impeachment of a judge of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal is dealt with in Sub Articles (2) and (3) of Article 107 of the Constitution.  Here too the process starts in the Parliament, but is somewhat different. The judiciary is not involved at all in the process.  The removal is by an order of the President after an address of Parliament. The grounds upon which removal can happen are proved misbehaviour or incapacity.  Such address shall be supported by a majority of the total number of the members (minimum 113). Here too, notice of a resolution must be given for the presentation of an address. It must set out full particulars of the alleged misbehaviour or incapacity. Such Notice must be signed by at least one third of the total number of members (minimum of 75).

Parliament shall by law or by standing orders provide for all matters relating to the presentation of such an address, including the procedure for the passing of such resolution, the investigation and proof of the alleged misconduct or incapacity, and the right of such judge to appear and to be heard in person or by representative.

Two former Presidents were sought to be impeached. In the first case, the Speaker did not entertain the Notice of Resolution.  In the second, the process was scuttled using Constitutional provisions available as at then. The only impeachment of a member of the upper judiciary was successfully completed, but consequent to a regime change later reversed by Parliament.

Aravinda Rohan Ivor Athurupane  Via email

As adults we should be conscious of what we circulate on social media

 Once upon a time parents raised their kids with values and principles which they lived out. The example seen in parents’ lives helped pass on these values to succeeding generations.

As a senior citizen I have been very disturbed by videos and posts which are now circulating. I remember my mother saying “Unless you have something nice to say about someone it’s best you don’t say anything”. My parents never came to my school to defend me or to find fault with the school or teachers. We were never encouraged to carry tales about teachers or students. We learned to fight our own battles!

We also learned to accept failures, disappointments and even what may have seemed unfair to us without making a big deal about it. I guess that’s how we became resilient and took things in our stride.

Life was never about being competitive or wanting to always win, to come first or carry away prizes or be selected to netball or cricket team. If we weren’t selected it was not a big deal  – in fact we rejoiced with those who were chosen! We never felt lesser beings for not coming first or not becoming a prefect. We grew up at a time when we got distinctions or credits or yes, passes at the GCE O’L exam. Parents didn’t compare or count how many D’s or C’s we got! If there were such parents, they were the exception. In the present era kids seem to be almost apologetic if they don’t get at least 5 A’s!

All our parents wanted was for us to grow up with decency, valuing things like integrity (fast dying in our society), kindness, courtesy, and respect for others (especially those who served in our homes or workplaces), a willingness to serve unnoticed, putting others first etc..

I remember an older, wiser person telling me, “Remember if you are a party to tales about someone else the chances are that one day if you cross that person’s path she will talk behind your back too!” How true that is. I am grateful to a friend who can point out my blind spots and faults and put me back on track…because they care. They don’t put it on social media because they know better, to come direct to me and talk about it.

When you or I decide to run down another on social media the readers or listeners are listening to only one side of the story…I am surprised and appalled how adults who should know better just click a button and forward social media ‘stories’. When it comes to their alma mater, I would like to ask them, when did you last write or visit the current school principal and ask in what ways you could help the school especially during this pandemic time?

As a senior citizen I appeal first to the generation of parents who have kids in school to teach your children that disappointments and even failures don’t mean that one is ‘a failure’. Teach them that these very failures can help build character. That social media is not a place to destroy another but that we are called to ‘build up’ with our words. In any situation, there is much that you and I may not be aware of. Before we speak/write critically we must get all the facts correct.

Even then, before we speak or comment or post any material, we must ask ourselves: -

Is it true?

Is it helpful?

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

Unless we can answer ‘Yes’ to all of this, it is best that we stay silent.

A concerned senior citizen  Via email

Hiran has shown that the language of theatre is not the spoken word

“Olivier Award winner returns home to support peaceful protests” read a recent headline in a local newspaper about Lankan Hiran Abeyesekera, winner of the Olivier award in 2022 for best actor in Britain returning home to support the peaceful movement for the removal of the “award” of President from the current incumbent.

Because Hiran’s award is from the country of Shakespeare it reminds one of the lines in the famous play after the removal of Julius Caesar.

 “How many ages hence

Shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er

In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”– William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar  – Act 3 scene 1, on the “removal” of Caesar from Government)

The Shakespeare quote, in the context of the play’s action, seems to refer to the removal of rulers, not necessarily violently, by the people or their representatives.

But over the centuries, scholars have given Shakespeare’s words a deeper and more profound conveyance, to do with  sacred rites as old as Antigone by Sophocles or Shakuntala by Kalidasa or even our own ancient Kohomba Kankariya, the form of theatre’s roots in any country. The rite of theatre. The words “acted over” and a later line by Brutus, “How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport?” lend support to the idea. That “this our scene” is theatre performance in its ambiguous relationship with actual events, that shall go on for “many ages hence”.

And the words in Shakespeare’s quote “in states unborn and accents yet unknown” lend further support to the view that the famous lines are about theatre performance and not of removing rulers. Here the focus shifts sharply onto Abeysekera who has played Horatio amongst other Shakespearean roles in London’s major theatres. And this Lankan actor’s accent is what Shakespeare meant in “accents yet unknown”. Irrespective of his accent, he was valued as Horatio because he was communicating in the language of theatre, which is not the mere spoken word, but a complex of strands of lines of communication, of great actors.

I remember Henry Jayasena communicating dynamically with a Lankan audience playing the tragic John Proctor of Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in my production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. His English accent carried unmistakeable flavours of the Gampaha district, where Henry grew up, far from that of Massachusetts. It mattered not because he was a great actor. The language of theatre is not the spoken word. Hiran will know what is said here, it is for those young Sri Lankan men and women working to be actors. Go for theatre! Not worrying whether it is called English, Sinhala or Tamil theatre.

It may well be that Somalatha Subasinghe, Hiran’s early guru’s vision for her students is relevant  -  “Our vision is to impact children and youth to view the world from the widest perspective”.

Ernest Macintyre  Australia



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