Sri Lanka lawyers warn against firing top judge

Sri Lankan lawyers demonstrate outside the Supreme Court against the impeachment process against CJ Shirani Bandaranayake in Colombo. File photo  

Sri Lanka’s bar association has warned President Mahinda Rajapaksa not to dismiss the country’s chief justice without an impartial hearing into impeachment allegations against her. The lawyers say they will reject any replacement without a fair trial.

A committee comprising lawmakers ruled this month that Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was guilty of three of the 14 charges levelled against her and declared her unfit for office. The ruling came despite a walk-out protest from Ms. Bandaranayake, her lawyers and opposition members in the committee, who believed she was not given a fair trial.

Sanjaya Gamage, secretary of the association, which has a membership of 13,000 Sri Lankan lawyers, said a special general meeting on Saturday also decided unanimously to request that Mr. Rajapaksa reconsider the ruling and give her a fair trial.

The impeachment has drawn wide criticism from lawyers, judges and opposition politicians as an attempt to undermine the judicial independence in the country and concentrate more powers in the president.

Despite her absence, seven ruling party lawmakers ruled Ms. Bandaranayake was guilty of not disclosing details of 20 bank accounts, buying a house for another person as an attorney and then taking judicial control of cases against the company that sold the property. She was also found to have a conflict of interest because she would have supervisory powers over judges hearing a corruption case against her husband, who is a former state bank chairman.

Also, ruling party lawmakers harassed her at the hearing using derogatory references such as “mad woman,” her lawyers said in a letter Friday to the parliamentary speaker.

A vote on the impeachment will be taken when Parliament reopens next year, and the outcome will be sent to Mr. Rajapaksa, who has the power to dismiss or retain the judge. With Mr. Rajapaksa’s ruling party controlling more than two-thirds of Parliament’s 225 members, the motion is expected to be passed easily.

Mr. Rajapaksa appointed Ms. Bandaranayake as the country’s first women chief justice last year. However, she began to be heavily criticised by the government after she ruled that a proposed law giving vast powers to the economic development minister who is President Rajapaksa’s brother violated the constitution.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 4:14:53 PM |

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