Sri Lanka’s leading lawyers on Monday denounced President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s dismissal of the Chief Justice as illegal and said they still recognise Shirani Bandaranayake as the South Asian country’s top judge.
Lawyers and activists said Mr. Rajapaksa and the Parliament he controls violated the Constitution by trying to remove Ms. Bandaranayake, and that any attempt to replace her could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Mr. Rajapaksa on Sunday ratified a parliamentary vote to dismiss Ms. Bandaranayake, saying she has been found guilty of having unexplained wealth and misuse of power. The President’s critics say he pushed out the chief justice because she resisted efforts to solidify his family’s hold on the government.
A parliamentary tribunal found Ms. Bandaranayake guilty last month. She denied wrongdoing and walked out of the proceeding, saying she was not given a fair hearing. An appeals court quashed the guilty verdict after another court ruled that the tribunal lacked legal powers, but neither parliament nor Mr. Rajapaksa recognised those moves.
Lawyers Collective, a grouping of the country’s leading lawyers, said Ms. Bandaranayake’s dismissal was “unconstitutional and illegal.”
“We also still recognise she is the chief justice of this country,” said Chadrapala Kumarage, a member of the collective. He said any new appointment would be invalid.
“If the rulers of this country themselves break the main laws, other criminals may say those courts are not valid and illegal and that they will not accept them,” Mr. Kumarage said. “Then there will be a very dangerous and anarchy situation in the country.”
The lawyers said they will launch an island-wide campaign to educate the people about the government’s move. Many senior lawyers have asked Supreme Court judges not to sit with a new chief justice. It is unclear when Mr. Rajapaksa intends to appoint a replacement.
Critics of Mr. Rajapaksa see Ms. Bandaranayake’s impeachment as a step toward removing obstacles to absolute power and ensuring a servile judiciary.