Chief Justice removed

Print edition : February 08, 2013

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake before leaving the court complex to appear before a Parliamentary committee to answer impeachment charges in Colombo on December 4, 2012. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

IMPUNITY has a one-way relationship with power: the longer the tenure in power, the greater the temptation to act with impunity. While it lasted, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake coasted along with a system that was blatantly pro-government and anti-minority. She gave a slew of toeing-the-government-line judgments, notably the one on the 18th Amendment, which abolished limits on the executive presidency and also did away with independent commissions.

The same Supreme Court, even before Shirani Bandaranayake became Chief Justice, had ruled as illegal the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces. The re-merger was one of the many provisions of the 1987 India-Sri Lanka Accord, which brought a kind of strange peace to the embattled island.

Shirani Bandaranayake was handpicked to become a judge in 1996 by G.L. Peiris, the present Foreign Minister. She, an academic, had no prior experience at the Bar. She was the first woman judge and the youngest judge then.

It is unclear what led to her turning against President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Colombo is awash with whispers. One is that she transferred a well-connected city magistrate for conduct unbecoming of a judicial officer. Another is that she did not help out a Minister in a case in Mannar. Yet another, and the most frequently cited, is her ruling on a Bill on development that infringed on the rights of provinces.

Clearly, her political bosses did not take kindly to the fact that she had begun to act independently. In November 2012, the Rajapaksa government went ahead with an impeachment procedure in Parliament, where it has a two-thirds majority, and voted her out in January despite a court holding the process to be illegal and unjust. On January 13, Rajapaksa dismissed the Chief Justice. Two days later, he appointed a former Attorney General, Mohan Peiris, who has no experience on the Bench, to the post.

Shirani Bandaranayake said in a statement that she was still the Chief Justice and that her life and the lives of her family members were in danger. “The 16 years I have spent in the Supreme Court have been dedicated to uphold the rights of the people in this country,” her statement claimed. Unfortunately, most Tamils in Sri Lanka will not agree.

R.K. Radhakrishnan

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