Jayantha Jayasuriya, the Attorney General who opined that President Maithripala Sirisena could continue in office until 2021 despite the 19th Amendment to the constitution, is currently the front-runner for the position of Chief Justice.
The question of next Chief Justice has come to the fore as Priyasath Depp, the incumbent CJ, is expected to retire from office next month, having served his full termed.
Sources close to President Sirisena confirmed that he preferred Jayasuriya to take up the position as the Chief Justice. Sirisena is likely to proceed with the appointment upon his return from the United States next week.
Although an Attorney General ascending to the post of Chief Justice is not unprecedented in Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya’s possible appointment is expected to ruffle feathers at the top level of judiciary.
Jayasuriya’s affiliation with Sirisena was grotesquely manifested in the AG’s submission to the Supreme Court when the President sought opinion whether, in terms of Provisions of the Constitution, he had any impediment to continue in the office of President for a period of 6 years from 9th January 2015, the date on which the result of his election to the office of President was declared.
The Attorney General appearing with Additional Solicitor General Murdu Fernando and Deputy Solicitor General Nerin Pulle submitted that the incumbent President was elected by the people for the office to the term of 6 years. It is the sovereignty of the people who exercise their franchise to elect him as President.
“The power emanated from the franchise of the people. The commencement of his office should be considered from the date on which he is elected” Jayasuriya stated, adding that it was the Constitutional structure where the incumbent President was elected.
“The 19th Amendment to the Constitution is operative after the incumbent President was elected for a term of 6 years by the people, ” the AG submitted.
At that point, Jayasuriya’s submission earned ridicule from a large section of the legal fraternity as the 19th Amendment clearly stated its position on the incumbent President.
Despite the AG’s submission, the Supreme Court determined that the incumbent President’s term expired in five years, as per the provisions of the 19th Amendment.