By Colombo Telegraph –
‘An independent judiciary functions as a critical institutional mechanism providing a check and balance on the executive and legislative branches of a democratic society. The independence of this organ is vital, not only to ensure that the judiciary is able to discharge its functions without fear or favour, but also to uphold public confidence in the legal system as a whole and the due administration of justice,’ Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute Baroness Helena Kennedy, Queens Counsel said in a confidential letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week, expressing grave concern about the recent threats to the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.
The letter comes weeks after Judicial Services Commission Secretary Manjula Tilekaratne was pistol whipped on October 7 by four unidentified men. The attack is perceived as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary and interfere with the independence of judicial officers.
Helena Kennedy QC, Co-Chair of the IBAHRI said: ‘We consider the recently reported attack on the Secretary of the Judicial Service Commission in Sri Lanka to be extremely serious, requiring prompt and proper investigation by the appropriate authorities.’
The attack on Mr Tilakaratne was preceded by reports that Government Minister, Rishad Badiudeen, directly interfered with the professional duties of, and made threats against, Magistrate Honourable A Judeson, of the Magistrate Court in Mannar, in relation to a specific case. On 17 July 2012, the premises of the Magistrate Court complex in Mannar District were attacked by an angry crowd. Reports further indicate that the Minister met with the Secretary General of the JSC in an attempt to secure the transfer of Magistrate Judeson.
Sternford Moyo Co-Chair of the IBAHRI said, ‘We appeal to the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent the harassment and intimidation of judges and magistrates in accordance with Article 111 of the Constitution of Sri Lankawhichprovides that judges will be protected in the exercise of their judicial powers and functions’ He added, ‘The need to develop and preserve an independent judiciary free from political influence and with adequate guarantees to maintain its impartiality is of prime importance to the protection of the rule of law. As a member state of the United Nations Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Basic principles on the Independence of the Judiciary which states that “the independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State” and that“it is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”’
Baroness Kennedy QC told the media today that the IBAHRI believes that the physical assault on Tilekaratne and the reported attempt by the government to impeach the Chief Justice was connected. The Baroness told BBC that while the Government has the right to take action against senior judges, with the judiciary increasingly coming under threat and intimidation, any action taken by the Government against the judiciary will look politically motivated. At a time when the president and the chief justice are at loggerheads it might be perceived as an attempt to remove the Chief Justice as the government does not like what the judiciary is doing, she said.
The Baroness said that while the Sri Lankan government has initiated investigations against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake’s husband’s alleged financial mishandling, the CJ’s conduct and that of her husband are unrelated affairs.