Virtually unnoticed in the country’s media Gotabaya Rajapaksa‘s first major judicial nomination was Court of Appeal Judge Abdul Hameed Dileep Nawaz who was to be promoted as President of the Court of Appeal.
Nawaz is the first sitting judge and the senior-most judicial officer to have been charge sheeted by the Bribery Commission for corruption during his time at the Attorney General’s Department. Mohan Pieris who usurped the Chief Justice chair after the illegal impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake has also been named in the corruption case number 87741/01/18 at the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court. The case is currently before the Supreme Court after Mohan Pieris filed a writ challenging the Bribery Commission’s case. It will come up again in the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court by May 2020.
In 2018, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) had charged former Attorney General Mohan Pieris, Court of Appeal Judge A.H.M.D. Nawaz and former Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Limited (LECO) Chairman M.M.C. Ferdinando for preparing an erroneous Attorney General’s report to avoid taking legal action against irregularities committed by the LECO Chairman while purchasing of lands for LECO during 1 December and 30 December 2010.
The accused were alleged to have gained a wrongful or unlawful benefit from LECO funds, under the Bribery Act.
Since he was charged by the Bribery Commission, Nawaz has been prevented from hearing cases at the Court of Appeal by every President of the CA who has held office.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s second senior judicial nomination was to promote Justice Yasantha Kodagoda as Supreme Court Justice. Justice Yasantha Kodagoda who previously held the position as President to the Court of Appeal was also rewarded for his efforts to shut down the citizenship case against Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the cusp of election nominations in October 2019 by being bumped up to the Supreme Court. Kodagoda went against two judgments made by full benches of the Supreme Court by holding with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s lawyers arguments that a president was the “repository” of executive power in the absence of a cabinet of ministers. He also insulted Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s challengers who filed the case, insinuating that they had not come to court with “clean hands”.
His allegation that the petitioners had filed the case in bad faith only amplified the death threats faced by the petitioners, who were forced into hiding even before the judgment was delivered.
The CA ruling was appealed in the Supreme Court but proceedings will not go ahead as long as Rajapaksa remains president. For Kodagoda’s pains, and for ensuring the path was cleared for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to contest the November 16 presidential election, the former Additional Solicitor General was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice last week.
However some lawyers who did not want to be named opined that Justice Kodagoda’s time as a justice of the Court of Appeal had not been marked by any controversy or scandal despite the way he ruled on Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s citizenship case. He should be given time on the Supreme Court to prove his mettle and only time would tell if he could stand up to the executive or not, the lawyers said.
Speaking to Colombo Telegraph about the President’s first judicial appointments, a senior President’s Counsel told Colombo Telegraph that Justice Nawaz is known to pronounce judgments without the judgment being written. Many cases were either dismissed or allowed without the written judgment in the case record. When Anidda newspaper Editor K.W. Janaranjana filed a Right to Information request, the Registrar of the Court of Appeal issued a RTI reply giving all the details and the reply was published in the “Anidda” newspaper.
When Justice Preeti Padman Surasena served as President of the Court of Appeal, he did not allow Justice Nawaz to hear cases, but requested him to finish writing just judgments in his Chambers. However, when pro-Rajapaksa justice who gave the white flag order against General Sarath Fonseka briefly held the position as acting President of the CA, her first order of business was to allow Nawaz to sit in open court. This decision was reversed again when Yasantha Kodagoda was appointed President, Court of Appeal.
After Speaker Karu Jayasuriya saw the Anidda report, he sent the news report to the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs to inquire and report on the issue pertaining to such a senior member of the judiciary. Janaranjana gave evidence before the Committee and drew attention to two cases which were heard by Nawaz and Justice Madawala. In the two cases, Nawaz had given the final judgment without the judgment actually being written. When he was asked for the judgment, he could not send it to the Registrar as Justice Madawala had died by that time and her signature could not be taken.
It is known that Nawaz is friendly with former Minister Hakeem, who is safeguarding Nawaz. The Registrar of the Court of Appeal was summoned before the Oversight Committee to give evidence on the RTI reply. Hakeem and several other SLMC members who were not members of the committee attended the meeting and argued in favour of Nawaz. Before the Committee could finalize its report, the Government changed with the presidential election on November 16.(By Janakie Mediwake)