By Basil Fernando –
The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) inquiring into the allegations against the Chief Justice, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake in a surprising and shocking move informed her that during this inquiry no witnesses would be produced and therefore there would be no room for cross examination.
An ‘inquiry’ without witnesses naturally cannot be an inquiry at all. The essence of an inquiry is to place before the accused the witnesses who are making allegations thus giving the opportunity of cross examination on any such witness. There is no other way to find the truth behind any matter by any person who sits as an impartial judge than to listen to the witnesses and to see how they fare when they are cross examined on what they have said in evidence.
This really raises the question about the PSC. Are they a body who has already made up its mind about the allegations and are sitting there just to listen to what the CJ has to say about the allegations? If they have already made up their mind about the allegations they have no right to sit as judges.
Verdict first — trial later
The PSC inquiry is a reminder of the story of Alice in Wonderland where the verdict is made first and then when reminded, that there was no trial with a request “for just a little trial” the queen replies, the verdict first and the trial later.
The PSC inquiry is not just funny but only a ritual setup before the verdict is announced to the parliament for a vote. The task of the PSC is just to hook up a finding to be placed before the parliament which will decide the matter on the basis of a hand count.
‘Peoples’ Power’ — a comic programme in the SLBC
While this is proceeding in this manner there is also a comic show which is staged every morning in a programme entitled ‘Peoples’ Power’ broadcast through the SLBC. Under the pretext of reading the headlines in newspapers a commentator who is a former editor of several newspapers that has been unceremoniously dismissed from his position tries to interpret the news in a truly sycophantic fashion. The main point is to say how right the government is and how wrong everybody else is.
To do that the commentator chooses not to mention any of the factual information around the news item he is discussing. For example in discussing the walkout of the CJ from the PSC proceedings the commentator does not inform the public the reasons as to why the CJ and her legal team decided to take that path. He does not tell his listeners that the PSC proposed an inquiry with witnesses and cross examination.
Instead, rhetorically the commentator asked if any person walks out of a judicial proceeding whether it would not amount to contempt of court. In fact, if any judge in Sri Lanka were to announce that in the trial he was about to conduct no witnesses will give evidence and that the affected person has no opportunity for cross examination no litigant would commit contempt to court if he refused to participate in such proceedings. The precondition of participation is that there is a real trial where the basic norms of fairness would be observed. The commentator of course does not ask his question from anyone else who may have given him the explanation as to condition under which people are under obligation to participate in judicial proceedings. Instead he himself gives the answer and that is the monologue that the listeners are forced to listen to.
The commentator also does not follow any of the ethics that are expected to be observed when accusing persons which this commentator quite liberally does. None of those persons are called upon to reply to his accusations. Like the PSC this commentator running the programme ‘Peoples’ Power’ does not believe that he has any duty to be fair.
Strangely in today’s programme (December 7) the only person whose opinion the commentator called for was a member of PRA a onetime underground death squad. This former member of PRA is the Erskine May that this commentator relies on regarding parliamentary practices.
What all this indicates is not just funny but the lowest depth to which the government has reduced all political discourse, whether it is about conducting an inquiry for the removal of the highest judicial officer in the country or about the manner in which the state media is used for providing their version of the information to the people.
That lowest depth is no surprise. In a country where no inquiries are conducted into well-publicised murders which are perceived by the public as political assassinations, where enforced disappearances are allowed and even allegations of rape against the ruling party politicians do not amount to a scandal, and where prisoners are shot down inside the prisons, where every kind of financial fraud goes without accountability and where lawlessness has become the norm that is the lowest depth that society can descend to.
But that is no matter, nothing is treated as shocking and even the Chief Justice of the country is treated worse than a common criminal (in fact, the common criminals enjoy rather a privileged place).
For an E-Book which includes documents and information on the impeachment proceedings place see here.