24 October, 2021

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Impeachment Of The Chief Justice – The Charges

By Chandra Kumarage

Chandra Kumarage

Some Members of Parliament of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have submitted an Impeachment Motion against the Chief Justice (CJ) to the Speaker of Parliament and the Speaker has decided to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into and report to Parliament on the charges contained in the Impeachment Motion. By evaluating the list of charges contained in the Impeachment Motion, the second and third charges are criminal offences triable by a competent, independent and impartial court, as provided for in Article 13(3) of the Constitution which stipulates that any person charged with an offence shall be entitled to be heard, in person or by an attorney at law, at a fair trial by a competent court.  Moreover Article 13 (5) mandates that every person shall be presumed innocent until he is proved guilty and Code of Criminal procedure Act No. 15 of 1979 stipulates that all criminal trials should be conducted publicly.  The State media has already pronounced the respondent CJ guilty of all charges in the impeachment and the hallowed principles of the presumption of innocence guaranteed in the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the principles of Natural Justice have been put to the back burner.

It is submitted that the charge number two in the motion is very vague non sustainable in any tribunal conducting a fair trial.

The charges , three, four and five in the impeachment motion are  essentially criminal and  allegedly have been committed in her personal capacity as an individual and not either abusing or misusing her power as the CJ. Those are ex facie serious criminal charges falling under the Penal Code or other penal provisions of law, the complexity and legality of which could only be comprehended and adjudicated by a competent court comprising trained judges who are capable of handling such cases.

Even charge number one in the Motion , although it appears to be a serious charge,  it is not alleged that respondent CJ had abused her powers as the CJ in adjudicating the fundamental rights cases referred to in the said charge. It can be easily inferred that had there been evidence to that effect the framers of the impeachment motion who should presumably have been experienced lawyers would have specifically stated so therein. There is also no evidence of allegation that the property has being purchased below the market value.  It is submitted that the fundamental rights cases are heard by a panel of three judges of the Supreme Courts.  Section 165(1) Code of Criminal procedure Act No. 15 of 1979 stipulates that a criminal charge shall contain such particulars as to the time and place of the alleged offence as to the person, if any, against whom and as to the thing ,if any, in respect of which it was committed as are reasonably sufficient to give the accuse notice of the matter with which he is charged… and it is submitted that even in an impeachment motion charges have to be framed according to these provisions and the above four charges have been framed so vaguely without giving the essential particulars that should be given as stipulated in that section.

By including these charges in the motion to be adjudicated by lay individuals the majority of whom belong to the complainant party and on whose approval the impeachment was originated,  incurably violates the  basic principles of criminal and natural justice which state that the accuser must not be the judges of his own case.

It is an essential requisite in the criminal procedure established by law that the information shall be well founded to enable a prosecutor to prefer charges against a suspect the ascertainment of which requires that the statement of the suspect as well as his/her witnesses shall also be recorded. In this instance the charges which are of a criminal nature have been framed against the CJ without taking these mandatory steps.  It is also very strange as to how the bank accounts of the CJ were accessed without following the procedure established by law.

It must be remembered that even the International Criminal Court (ICC) which tries war criminals and other offenders on alleged charges of crimes against humanity are afforded a fair trial with all due process guarantees.

It must be reminded that in the first ever motions for impeaching Nevelle Samarakoon CJ on an  allegation that he made a speech in a public meeting allegedly disrespectful of the executive in his capacity as the Chief Justice, the Parliamentary Select Committee found him not guilty of the alleged charge as misbehaviour. In the second impeachment motion submitted to Parliament against S.N. Silva CJ was based on very serious acts alleged to have been committed in his capacity as the CJ could not be inquired into in that the President prorogued the Parliament once and dissolved it the next time when the motion was to be taken up to prevent it being inquired into. In an interesting but in a paradoxical move the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) at that time took the side of the allegedly errant CJ and passed a resolution expressing their faith and confidence in him.

In the circumstances it is the dedicated duty and responsibility of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL)  representing the entire legal fraternity of the country to think professionally as lawyers who represent individuals facing the gravest of charges in the country’s penal laws on whose defence they will never hesitate to plead relief and exceptions under every principle of natural law, statutory law, international standards and judicial precedents etc.  in the defence of their clients to apply the same ethical and professional standards towards the highest judicial officer in the country who is facing an unfair and prejudiced inquiry by a panel of members of parliament the majority of whom belong to the political coalition in power and have a vested interest against the respondent CJ, and if found guilty has no right to appeal to a higher forum that is available to a convict by a competent, independent and an impartial court.

It is the view of the writer that the government has submitted this impeachment against the CJ violating the fundamental right to equality enshrined in Article 12 (1) of the Constitution which stipulates that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.

In these circumstances all members of the legal profession must urge the government in unison to withdraw this impeachment and/or to prefer criminal proceedings against her in a competent, independent and impartial court where she will get a fair trial and a right of appeal if found guilty of the charges.

It is stated that, Charge number five is based on the fact that the husband of the CJ is a suspect in a legal action initiated in the Magistrate’s Court in Colombo in connection to acts of bribery and /or corruption under the Bribery or Corruption Act No. 19 of 1994. It will be pertinent to state with reference to  the above charge in the motion that when the respondent CJ was sworn in May 2011 corruption allegations were already being levelled against her husband and the opposition declared her appointment to be unsuitable and this government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed her despite such objections. The Parliament has no moral or legal right to impeach her on Charge number five now.

The Charge number Six in the motion is the appointment of Mr. Manjula Tilakaratne who “is very junior in service” as the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission. Media reports stated that when she was asked by some senior lawyers who met her as to why she appointed judge Manjula Tilakaratna as the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission she said that he was the sixth in the order of seniority and that his appointment was perfectly lawful and that the Constitution does not mention the necessity of seniority in making such appointments. She drew the attention of the lawyers that her predecessor Asoke De Silva appointed his own brother Priyantha Silva who was the nineteenth in the line of seniority and was succeeded by Prasanna Silva who was the twenty ninth in the list of seniority and questioned further as to why the principle of seniority was not  applied when Judge Chandra Jayatillake who was far down in the list of seniority was appointed to the Court of Appeal sidelining Malini Gunaratne who was number one in the order of seniority and was the one recommended by the CJ. Therefore this charge is also unfounded and does not constitute misbehaviour.

Regarding charge number twelve it was reported in the news papers that the magistrate concerned had denied that she ever made a complaint against the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission.

Regarding charge number thirteen it is stated in the Establishment Code and  the other administrative rules for a government official to obtain the permission of the head of department if he or she needs any additional privileges and facilities and particularly the Judicial Service being a closed service,  obtaining police protection has to be done through the Judicial Service Commission and this matter cannot be introduced as a charge in a motion to impeach the CJ who is the Chairman of the Judicial Service commission.

It is submitted that the other charges even if they are true also are so nebulous and fall far below the very high degree of proof necessary to be considered as misbehaviour.

It is pertinent to state here that similar impeachment inquiry of a Supreme Court judge of India is held before a committee of three members, two of whom should be judges of the Supreme Court of India. Moreover once a judge found guilty the impeachment motion must be endorsed by two third members of the Lokh Sabha(House of Representatives) and the Rajya Sabha(Senate).

It is very clear that in the circumstances this impeachment motion has been presented to the Parliament with the sole ulterior motive of removing the CJ for not giving a judgment favourable to the Government in the statutory determination of the Divinaguma Bill. Who can say that the same fate will not befall the other two judges of the Supreme Court who constituted the Supreme Court panel with the CJ in arriving at the statutory determination on the Divineguma Bill unanimously?

This is not going to be the end.  The government which is under obligation to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement the Structural Adjustment Policies dictated to them in return for the loans that they lavishly granted to the government have to pass laws like selling water in the guise of water management, and other sustainable natural resources like the Eppawala Phosphate deposit and even to sell the valuable lands to foreign companies at greatly undervalued prices.  People in Sri Lanka will not forget that when the People’s Alliance government of Chandrika Kumarathunga made an agreement with the Multinational Corporation, Freeport McMoran to sell the Phosphate deposit in Eppawala which would have deprived for generations of Sri Lankans’ the right to extract the said deposit as fertiliser sustainably for many years to come was prevented by the Supreme Court.  This time the government is making all efforts to prevent courts in Sri Lanka giving such people friendly judgments.

It is submitted in conclusion that the principles of judicial independence are entrenched in international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR), the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, Bangalore Principles on the independence of the Judiciary and the Commonwealth (Latimer House) Principles on the Three Branches of the Government, (which specifically lay down that an independent, impartial and honest and competent judiciary is integral to upholding the Rule of Law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice), all of which Sri Lanka has either approved, endorsed, ratified or acceded to.

* C. Kumarage, Attorney-at-Law is one of the Conveners of the Lawyers for Democracy, Sri Lanka

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Latest comments

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    As stated by the author, how can the accusers become the judge and jury. This is the major fundamental flaw in this process. In addition there are so many other other defects in this motion which makes it untenable under the constitution and legal system.

    Govt will not hear the last of this. Govt has now exposed itself before the entire country and international community.

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      The Rajapakse war criminals should be tried in a criminal court for all their white van murders and looting of public property including the house of the General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon on Green Path, and not the CJ!
      Quite right, superb article: how can a party to conflict – the accuser – of the CJ judge the merits of the same case? This is a travesty of justice.
      Thee fact is that criminals are running Sri Lanka today, there is a generalized situation of anormic chaos, high suicide rates, emerging as law and order and due process and the entire justice system is being subverted to establish a dictatorship. The rise in suicides and attempt indicates the break down of social norms as sociologists know. A Central Provincial council politician and armed forces personnel have tried to or have committed suicide and even the prisoners are in open revolt and there have being killings in the Magazine Prison in Colombo. Sri Lankan society and social norms are falling apart as the Rajapakses assault the judiciary and norms.
      Time is ripe for regime change – people of Lanka are rising up!

  • 0
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    Good article! I have no doubt that this impeachment is politically motivated, and should be opposed. However, here are two good lesson to be learnt for all: 1) condom theory (as practiced before, and perfected by the current government) 2) those who lie down with dogs get up with fleas (as per an old adage).

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    Mr Kariyawasam should not have accepted the posts offered to him, or should have resigned when his wife was appointed as CJ.

    All signatories to the motion should be requested declare their assets, which should be published in media.

    All 117 signatories( MPP) should not be members of the select committee.

  • 0
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    Is there any purpose in writing such articles as I dont think the likes of Weerawansa will understand a word of what you saying. He along with the others are a bunch of modayas. They seems to have forgotten to include Dr Mervyn Silva. This needs to be rectified so that will have a bunch of bozos and clowns judging an eminent Judge.

  • 0
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    The impeachment attempt is clearly a vindictive measure. Even a child would understand that. Does a regime corrupt from top to bottom want a lily-white judiciary? If this impeachment move served as a rallying point for all right-thinking people with a social conscience to launch a democratic and non-violent struggle to topple this government, it would turn into a blessing in disguise- a veritable godsend at this grave hour of the nation! However. the struggle should be a well organized one. Sporadic and scattered protests would only be a waste of time and energy!

  • 0
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    the vast majority of the voting public,
    wil not ,een remotely comprehend the legal arguments,
    or the meaning of equal justice,
    and political injustice,
    that is being sought.
    but thats the way it is,
    when the anger of one segment,
    is reflected,in their actions,
    and injustice must occur,
    as the meaning of justice for some,
    is to prove they are right,
    regarless of the facts,
    and the facts are misrepresented.
    a foreing court,
    or if relevant,
    the Hague,
    can be called upon,to mediate,.
    the center for international justice,is another forum.
    but can it prevail?
    the plan appears to be the destruction of democracy,
    ignoring the rule of law,
    and prevail at any cost?
    what happens when power ,fame,ends,
    as it always does?
    where can they turn to?
    any possibility for sanity to prevail over mob rule?

    appears to elude Lanka,
    but its not the first time,
    the invaders,led by british,Dutch,Portugese,
    led the way,
    by applying laws ,not as intended,
    but as ordered or desired by those in power,
    Many of the present politicins,appear to have learned these bad examples,

    is parliament,
    led by so many parties,
    incapable of pulling the plug,
    and forcing therule of law.
    can anyone suspect that any parlimentarians,can even understand what they are doing ,under strict orders,
    to impeach.
    not based on laws,precedence or facts,
    just mob rule?

    do they want to be remebered in this manner?
    or like the way the foreign invaders ar emembered for thir 500 yr, abuse of power, without justice?

  • 0
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    People would,no doubt, welcome the suggestion made by Mr. Bambarawanage that the 117 signatories to the impeachment motion declare their assets for public information through mass media. I think it is still better for the President and all government MPs to declare their assets to show that they have got clean hands.

    As regards,Mr.Bambarawanage’s reference to Mr. Kariyawasam’s accepting the political appointments to high posts in the state sector, we can agree that he should not have accepted them given the position held by his wife. But it is Mr. Kariyawasam who should own the blame, not the Chief Justice. After all, even your spouse is a separate individual and there are occasions when you elect not to impose your will or opinion on your spouse out of respect for his/her right to take independent decisions. Sometimes people are compelled to tolerate some steps taken by the spouse just to save the marriage, say for the sake of children. I am not holding a brief for either Mr. Kariyawasam or the Chief Justice; merely referring to real life possibilities with regard to human relationships.

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    Mr Kariyawasam being a professional in his own right can find employment wherever he wishes. If spouses are to be restricted in finding employment then we may have to employ bachelors, spinsters or eunii for such positions. However that should be seperate from his wifes profession as CJ and there should be no conflict of interest or have any bearing on any judicial decisions made by her.
    The recent NSB share scandal in which he is involved has yet to be taken up in court and it is presumptious to assume that the CJ will be involved in it.

  • 0
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    Chandrapala Kumarage has presented a most concise argument against the charges filed against the CJ on purely legal-constitutional principles, and we should all be grateful. These arguments-legal and constitutional- should provoke our moral conscience as citizens of Lanka to stand up and be counted against this multi-pronged, all -out assault on the foundations of a civilized society which lives according to the norms of human decency and rule of law. Chandrapala has been a frontline fighter for democratic freedom and justice.In this fateful hour when our future and our freedom is at stake, we salute Chandrapala for his fearless stand and declare our commitment to contribute towards building a mass resistance movement that shall sweep this rotting Regime and neo-colonial system away and usher in a bright new future for our people.

    Surendra Ajit Rupasinghe
    Secretary,
    Ceylon Communist Party -Maoist.

  • 0
    0

    Thank you for this thoroughly informative article.

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