Senior Lawyers at the Sri Lankan Bar will take issue directly with the Commonwealth Secretariat over a decision by Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma to refrain from disclosing the content of two major legal opinions he sought regarding the Sri Lankan Government’s impeachment of its Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.
As exclusively revealed in the Colombo Telegraph, Commonwealth SG Sharma may have covered up two key independent legal opinions by South African and British jurists on the legality of Sri Lanka’s impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, withholding the content of those opinions even from the powerful Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).
Bar Association of Sri Lanka President, Upul Jayasuriya said he would be writing directly to the Commonwealth Secretariat, calling for transparency and a release of these two legal opinions. “We are interested in this matter ourselves, these are opinions sought about the Sri Lankan judicial system. We are stakeholders in this issue so whether the impeachment of Shirani Bandaranayake was wrong or right, we have every right to know,” Jayasuriya told Colombo Telegraph.
He added that in the name of transparency, the Secretary General had an obligation to reveal the content of the opinions he had sought about the Sri Lankan impeachment.
“Kamalesh Sharma did not pay for these independent opinions with his personal silver – he paid for it with Commonwealth funds,” he charged.
Jayasuriya explained that as a citizen of the Commonwealth and as a member of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association which was responsible for conceptualising the Latimer House principles governing the independence of the judiciary in Commonwealth Member States. “We are entitled to know if there has been a violation of these principles or not,” he explained.
Under Jayasuriya’s stewardship, the Bar has refused to recognise the appointment of Bandaranayake’s successor Mohan Pieris and decided to invite the impeached Chief Justice to his presidential installation.
The BASL remains a staunch critic of the impeachment process against Bandaranayake and the Government’s ongoing witch-hunt against the deposed Chief Justice.
Meanwhile, legal activist group the Lawyers Collective that mobilised against Bandaranayake’s impeachment said they were shocked at the revelations about the Secretary General’s decision to bury the reports. Speaking on behalf of the collective, activist and Lawyer J.C Weliamuna said that the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Secretary was undoubtedly expected to be more transparent and should disclose all facts for the Members to come to a reasonable and correct conclusion on the venue of the CHOGM. “In addition, if the story is true, the conduct the SG suggests unfortunate “collaboration” with the Sri Lankan political authorities, to suppress a material fact that may be conclusive in many aspects. The Members of Commonwealth then must then ask whether the SG should continue in that position any more in order to maintain the integrity and values of the Commonwealth,” Weliamuna charged.
He said that the impeachment was not an exclusively-internal matter for the country and therefore, post justification of impeachment (through various other means using its own organs within Sri Lanka) of the impeachment cannot justify a blatant violation of Commonwealth Values.
Speculation in Commonwealth and diplomatic circles is that the Secretary General has decided not to disclose the content of the opinions because they may have forced him to act against Sri Lanka which is the next host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this November, a top diplomat told Colombo Telegraph.
It is learned that CMAG Chair Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni is unhappy about Sharma’s lack of disclosure of these key legal opinions. The Canadian High Commissioner in London wrote to Sharma in May this year, asking for the opinions to be provided to the CMAG. Sharma responded that the opinions were “privileged”.