As conflicts of interest challenges mount for de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris who continues to appoint benches to adjudicate on cases in which he is cited as a main respondent or the offending party, Colombo Telegraph can now reveal a first person account of how Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane is personally instructing journalists to refrain from reporting court proceedings in a way that would be injurious to Pieris based on sources close to the UN Committee on Human Rights.
Supreme Court Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane summoned journalists to her chambers and instructed them on how to report on a controversial Fundamental Rights application filed against de facto Chief Justice Mohan Pieris alleging misconduct and abuse of power during his tenure as Attorney General, an affidavit submitted by a senior court reporter claims.
Tilakawardane was the only Supreme Court Justice to give evidence at the Shirani Bandaranayake PSC that convened in secret and summoned witnesses at the eleventh hour, after Bandaranayake and the Opposition MPs in the Committee had walked out of the Parliamentary Committee citing a lack of due process.
Ceylon Today news editor Stanley Samarasinghe affirmed that Justice Tilakawardane had made a hand-signal to journalists present in Court Room 403 when the controversial Colombo Dockyard Vs. Sri Lanka Customs case was taken up on February 26, 2013.
Pieris, now the country’s de facto Chief Justice is being accused by the petitioner, a Sri Lanka Customs official, of having of abusing the power of his office as Attorney General to pressure the Customs Department to agree to a settlement highly favourable for the private firm, Colombo Dockyard. The sum in question due to Sri Lanka Customs was in the range of Rs. 619 million.
On February 26, Counsel for the petitioner, the customs official in question who had uncovered the fraud was applying for a revision application against a dismissal of his previous petition by a two judge bench in which he claimed one of the judges, Satya Hettige was biased.
A source close to the UN Committee on Human Rights told Colombo Telegraph that the affidavit submitted by the petitioner “tells a grim story of the actual situation and of the way the justice system works”
“Amidst objections from the AG, Counsel bought to the notice of Court about the dishonesty and misconduct of the Attorney General Mohan Pieris and as to how the AG Mohan Pieris abused the office to withdraw an action filed by the Director General of Customs against the Colombo Dockyard Ltd,” Samarasinghe says in the affidavit.
One of the Supreme Court judges on the bench P. Ratnayake recused himself for “personal reasons” leaving on Justices Shiranee Tilakawardane and Eva Wanasundera to hear the Counsel’s submissions, Samarasinghe explains.
The Tilakawardane Bench dismissed the petitioner’s application for revision of the dismissal order by a previous bench that included Justice Hettige the counsel wanted disqualified for bias.
At the end of the proceedings, Samarasinghe says Justice Tilakawardane gestured oddly to the journalists in the courtroom. “Soon after the hearing and just after the Counsel for the petitioner left the court room, Justice Tilakawardane pointed her finger towards us and signalled something which we failed to understand and as usual we left the courtroom,” the journalists affirmed, referring to himself and his colleagues.
“Then Justice Tilakawardane sent her peon for me to report to her chamber,” the journalist says.
He said he had never received such a call before.
“This kind of call I have never experienced before and I was concerned as to why I was summoned to her Chambers but as directed by the Judge I followed the peon to her chamber,” Samarasinghe says in his affidavit.
There Samarasinghe says that he was strictly informed by Justice Tilakawardane that the matter before the court that day had only been for legal arguments. He had been told not to report on any other matters that transpired in the courtroom. He said he was asked to inform the other court reporters of the same thing.
Later, Samarasinghe was once more summoned to Justice Tilakawardane’s chamber and handed a signed judgment to “facilitate” their reporting on the case. The copy was signed by all three judges, including Justice Ratnayake who had withdrawn from the case before the proceedings commenced.
“I was strictly advised that nothing else transpired in the court room should be reported in the media and to inform the same to other media men. I was also informed that I would be given a copy of the judgment signed by all three judges and the same to be given to the others to facilitate their reporting about the case. I state that later on when I called her chambers further her request I was given an uncertified copy of the judgment that had been signed by all three judges,” Samarasinghe concluded.
Having failed to obtain redress at the Pieris Supreme Court, the petitioner has now filed a petition before the UN Committee on Human Rights alleging that the denial of justice is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a signatory.