The Ministry of Defence is poised to control the Supreme Court through de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, who was one time an advisor to the Ministry, the Colombo Telegraph learns. The de facto Chief Justice’s close association with the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, after the former served on various Defence boards have meant that the Supreme Court had been placed under the indirect control of Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, legal sources told Colombo Telegraph.
Information is emerging of several cases where the litigants have approached politicians in respect of cases. The politicians then refer the litigants to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence who in turn had gone to the extent of arranging meetings with the de facto Chief Justice.
In one such case, involving the Ceylon Tobacco Company (case regarding the pictorial warnings on packets), Mohan Pieris gave an audience to a few representatives of the CTC, who were told by the de facto Chief Justice to change the Counsel (Romesh de Silva, PC) and retain one of the more regime friendly lawyers.
Peiris had also suggested the names of few such lawyers including Ali Zabri, a private lawyer who appeared for Defence Secretary in his defamation case against The Sunday Leader. The CTC thereafter retained Faiz Mustapha, (father of Deputy Minister Faizer Mustapha) and Ali Zabri.
Having learnt of this move, the country’s anti smoking lobby including JHU MP Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thero then made representations to the political authorities to make the de facto Chief Justice neutral in this case. However, the outcome of these protests and appeals is not yet known.
In several cases involving the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and the interests of the MOD Secretary, such appointments have been granted to meet the Chief Justice. In addition to the meetings, the opposing litigants are being influenced to settle the cases, by firstly changing the present counsel, if they are not pro-regime lawyers. In one such case where President’s Photographer (Sudath Silva) had unlawfully secured a property through the UDA in Battaramullla, displacing a family, the litigant is now being pressurized through the authorities to change the Counsel in order to settle the matter, allegedly on the instructions of the de facto Chief Justice.
Following the impeachment of Sri Lanka’s 43rd Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, it was widely speculated that her replacement, Pieris was the choice of Secretary to the MOD Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In several cases, CJ Pieris has been heard to make explosive and partisan statements from the bench with regard to tarnishing the image of the country through human rights litigation (in a FR case filed against the unlawful death of a prisoner during a prison riot) and refusing to adjudicate land disputes for some litigants, demanding that they instead seek to negotiate with state authorities against whom Fundamental Rights petitions were being filed.