The Government has tabled a motion in Parliament to impeach the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake that sets out 14 charges against her, including some relating to her personal finances. Government spokesmen have assured that the motion is not motivated by any displeasure caused by such judgments and that it is based on alleged acts of misconduct by the Chief Justice. However, it is significant that the Supreme Court has recently given several judgments against the State including one that has upheld the devolved power of provincial councils, which is necessary for inter-ethnic power sharing. It is also significant that there have been several other instances of gross misconduct by members of the government that have involved criminal acts and loss of public funds that have gone without proper investigation and without punishment. This has given rise to speculation that the Executive and Judicial arms of government have been on collision course.
It is extraordinary in a democratic society for a chief justice to be faced with charges of the kind that have been published that are said to merit impeachment. The UN Declaration on the Judiciary states that “Everyone shall have the right to be tried by ordinary courts or tribunals using established legal procedures. Tribunals that do not use the duly established procedures of the legal process shall not be created to displace the jurisdiction belonging to the ordinary courts or judicial tribunals. In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; provided, however, that in exercising such rights, judges shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.”
Justice it is said must not only be done but also be seen to be done. The government has made assurances that due process will be followed. The Speaker will now form a Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the charges against the chief justice. It is important that the initiation of such inquiries will not be based on political grounds but will be done with independence and impartiality. The impeachment resolution is signed by the members of the government party coalition in Parliament. There will be a Select Committee where members of both sides of Parliament would be represented that will go into the merits of the impeachment. We hope that the Chairman of the Select Committee will be drawn from the Opposition with equal representation from both sides of Parliament.
The National Peace Council believes that those who are holding public office need to behave in a manner that will not bring disrepute to them or to the positions they hold. The Chief Justice has asserted that she has always acted in keeping with the hallowed traditions of an Independent Judiciary and that she is prepared to face any impeachment motion brought against her. Accordingly she needs to be given every opportunity to defend herself before the Parliamentary Select Committee, which we hope would be fearless, independent, impartial and transparent in its deliberations in the interest of respect for the rule of law and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
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