President Mahinda Rajapaksa had referred his Government’s Appropriation Bill for 2014 to the Supreme Court for legal opinion in complete secrecy, disallowing interested parties from filing submissions and legal arguments on the contents of the bill, Colombo Telegraph learns.
After the furore over the Appropriation Bill for 2013 was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Court found in favour of the petitioner and ruled sections of the bill were unconstitutional, the President has sent this year’s bill for referral to the Mohan Peiris Supreme Court for opinion.
The fact that the matter had been referred to the Supreme Court and deemed constitutional by a five judge divisional bench only came to light when the CPA petition against the 2014 bill came up before Court on Monday (4).
De Facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris told the Petitioner that the same points raised by the petitioner had been dealt with in the referral, and five judges had ruled the bill was constitutionally sound. He indicated there would be no different decision that would emerge from the bench comprising himself, and Justices K Sripavan and Sathya Hettige, he said, although permitting the Counsel for the petitioner to make submissions on the petition.
The CPA petition therefore is argued on the basis that the case has already been decided even though the public was not made aware of such a question or determination by the Supreme Court until the petition came up.
The determination by the divisional bench was delivered to the President as is law but in an odd twist, after CPA filed its petition against the Appropriation Bill copies of the ruling were posted several journalists and court reporters.
Under Article 129 (1) of the Constitution, the President can refer matters for legal opinion on subjects of public importance, but rarely is this process done in such a cloak and dagger fashion, legal analysts say.
For instance when President Chandrika Kumaratunga referred the question of her term ending to the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice Sarath N Silva other interested parties made submissions regarding the question of law, lawyers explain. In fact President Rajapaksa‘s own referral this week to the Supreme Court for a decision on the 18th Amendment provisions dealing with when during a presidential term elections could be called, is a public matter.
The issue with precedents being set for questions to be referred to the Supreme Court in dead secrecy is that any draft legislation or constitutional questions could be referred and decided by the Rajapaksa Chief Justice Mohan Pieris without the public being given an opportunity to pose challenges to his legal reasoning.
In the 11 months that Peiris has been in charge of the Supreme Court barely any decisions have gone against the ruling regime, with many public interest cases and litigation potentially dangerous for the regime being reserved for hearing before Peiris.