Last October, Colombo Telegraph reported that the Special Presidential Commission (SPC) headed by Justice Priyantha Jayawardena which has been mandated to report on whether civic disability should be imposed on Opposition politicians and officials named in the report of the Presidential Commission on Political Victimisation (PCPV) is being used to create havoc in the Opposition. The PCPV is better known as the “Pissu Poosa” Commission. Among those named were former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Ministers Mangala Samaraweera (since deceased), Patali Champika Ranawaka, Sarath Fonseka, Rauf Hakeem, Malik Samarawickrema, TNA Leader R. Sambanthan, TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran, JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, lawyer J.C. Weliamuna, former M.P. Dr. Jayampathi Wickramarathna, senior detective Shani Abeysekera and Deputy Solicitor General Thusith Mudalige. The Colombo Telegraph article can be accessed here.
Although the current political situation and the grave crisis that the Government has put the country into has overshadowed the SPC process and it is extremely unlikely that a recommendation to strip the above of their civic rights would muster the required two-thirds majority in Parliament, Justice Priyantha Jayawardena is using the SPC to further his own goal, that is, to become Chief Justice as soon as possible. In fact, he is said to be hoping to become Chief Justice by as early as March 2022. According to reliable sources, Jayawardena is now more focused on passing strictures against Jayantha Jayasuriya, the present Chief Justice, for his role as Attorney-General when many who are close to the Rajapaksa family were indicted in courts. Jayawardena’s strategy is to find fault with the Attorney General of the day for allegedly acting arbitrarily to indict those who later complained to the PCPV.
Acting outside his mandate as the Chairman of the SPC, Jayawardena is also liaising with the Rajapaksa acolytes in the Bribery and Corruption Commission, former Justices Eva Wanasundara (Chairperson) and Deepali Wijesundara. The material used by the PCPV has been taken over by the SPC for its purposes. Jayawardena has been supplying copies of files to the Bribery Commission, dealing directly with Deepali Wijesundara. The plan is for the PSC to come to a finding that Jayantha Jayasuriya has abused his powers as Attorney General and for the Bribery and Corruption Commission to then investigate alleged abuse of power amounting to corruption.
Becoming aware Jayawardena’s cunningness and malicious intent, Justice Sobitha Rajakaruna, Court of Appeal Judge, has resigned from the Special Presidential Commission. Justice Rajakaruna is held in high esteem by the Bar and is a deeply religious person unwilling to do anything against his conscience. The vacancy created by Justice Rajakaruna’s resignation has been filled on 05 November 2021 by Justice Shashi Mahendran, the most junior judge of the Court of Appeal at that time. What is most surprising is that the resignation of Justice Rajakaruna and the appointment of Justice Mahendran have been kept a secret. It is usual for the Presidential Secretariat to issue statements on such changes, but in this case, the public has not been informed.
It is also unusual for the most junior judge of the Court of Appeal to be appointed to an important commission such as the SPC. Mahendran is unlikely to resist Jayawardena’s unethical attempts to find his way to the post of Chief Justice. Jayawardena is already throwing his weight about in the Supreme Court behaving like the ‘venda’ (‘to be’) Chief Justice, much to the displeasure of the other judges. He is also known to miss no opportunity to malign Justice Buvaneka Aluvihare, who is the most senior judge after the Chief Justice. Jayawardena appears to be extremely confident that the Rajapaksa ruling clan would appoint him as Chief Justice once Jayasuriya is forced to resign. After all, he was Basil Rajapaksa’s personal lawyer at the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2014. When he was appointed, the United National Party made an official statement criticizing his appointment, a very rare step for a leading political party to take. The UNP statement can be accessed here.
During the period of the Yahapalanaya government, however, Jayawardena made friends with key UNP figures. He used his closeness to a UNP lawyer, who is not in active practice, who in turn is close to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to reach out to the latter. Jayawardena was in touch with Minister Ravi Karunanayake too. When the Supreme Court was hearing the fundamental rights case against the dissolution of Parliament by President Sirisena, the UNP leadership was kept informed of developments in the Supreme Court. The UNP leadership knew in advance that it would be a unanimous judgement and even that Justice Sisira De Abrew was delivering a separate judgment. The source is obvious.
The other member of the SPC, Justice Kumudini Wickramasinghe is very likely to go along with Jayawardena’s scheming. She has not made a mark for herself, although she has functioned as a State Counsel, High Court judge, Court of Appeal judge and now a judge of the Supreme Court. Jayawardena has assured Wickramasinghe that she would be ‘recognised’ for her services once he is Chief Justice, which is likely to include membership in the Judicial Service Commission.
During the last couple of months, Jayawardena has been at the SPC almost full time, working into the night. Additional Solicitor-General Rohantha Abeysuriya, well-known in the Attorney General’s Department as pro-Rajapaksa and a strong Sinhala nationalist, is leading the SPC’s legal team and is strongly supportive of Jayawardena. Abeysuriya has been instructed to be at the Commission even on non-sitting days. Recently, an application was made on behalf of Abeysuriya for the postponement of a case on the ground that he was at the SPC. The Presiding Judge inquired how Abeysuriya could be at the PSC when Justice Jayawardena was sitting on another bench.
A senior lawyer told the Colombo Telegraph that Jayawardena’s conduct was highly unethical and amounted to misconduct for which he could be impeached. A Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader said that they were aware of what was happening in the SPC and warned of dire consequences if the SPC process is manipulated to remove the Chief Justice and to take away the civic rights of Opposition politicians.