16 December, 2019

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Speak Out In Defending Judicial Independence, Before It Is Too Late

By Bijo Francis

Bijo Francis

Letter to all judges of Sri Lanka written by AHRC Executive Director Bijo Francis

Honourable Judges:

I am writing on behalf of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) under extraordinary circumstances as the gravity of the issues involved compels me to do so.

The issue that I wish to seek your attention is the impeachment proceedings of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, which violates the principles of separation of powers, due process and the right to a fair trial that the Chief Justice is entitled to. All of this is denied to the Chief Justice in the impeachment procedure as set out in Article 107 of the Constitution and the related Standing Orders.

It is the duty of the Supreme Court and all other judges in Sri Lanka to protect the dignity and the liberty of every individual. This is the exclusive prerogative of the judiciary. It is a universally recognised principle in all countries where independence of the judiciary exists and is valued. This is also a principle well enshrined in Sri Lankan law as so beautifully expressed by Sir Sydney Abraham in the Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle case.

Defending the liberty of an individual and the independence of the judiciary weighs heavily on the shoulders of all the judges in the country, more importantly upon the Supreme Court. If the judiciary falters or fails in this, it will not only destroy individual liberty and also the very existence of an independent judiciary.

History is proof to the fact that in the past decades, the Sri Lankan judiciary has on crucial occasions failed to protect its own independence. Two of those crucial moments were when the Constitution itself was changed in 1972 and further in 1978, attacking fundamentally judicial independence. Had the judiciary used its inherent powers and constitutionally resisted these attacks, judicial independence and the entire nation would not have suffered the setbacks, Sri Lanka has suffered so badly, in the recent times.

In the very vocation of being a judge is the duty to be courageous, even at the expense of great personal sacrifice at crucial moments when the integrity of one’s position is challenged.

The Sri Lankan judiciary is facing one such crucial situation at the moment. Perhaps a time in history that is so important, that if it is lost, the very independence of the judiciary will suffer a setback so devastating, from which it would be difficult to recover.

The independence of the Chief Justice‘s office is being challenged, and the Chief Justice is deprived of the basic right, which every citizen of Sri Lanka is entitled to, in defending oneself within a framework of fair trial, observing standards that are universally recognised. If the Chief Justice falls, the entire judiciary will fall with her.

It is within the powers of the judiciary in Sri Lanka to prevent this by demanding justice for the Chief Justice, who is also a colleague. It is not a mere act of solidarity or friendship, but a step so vital to the survival of an independent profession.

History will question whether the judges of Sri Lanka rose to the occasion and faced it with courage in defending the very foundation of their own profession and their independence. If the judiciary is not willing to shoulder this responsibility, that too will be on record and generations to come will suffer the loss of their liberty as a consequence of this failure.

Global support for just causes often begins from bold initiatives of a few individuals, who make the first move from the frontline of defence. It is equally the responsibility of the global human rights community to support initiatives in Sri Lanka in defence of fundamental freedoms.

I therefore, on behalf of the global human rights community and in the name of the best ideals on which human rights and human liberty rest, most humbly call upon all the judges of Sri Lanka, more importantly the judges serving at the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, to face this moment of destiny, boldly, and with the farsightedness the situation warrants, in defending the Chief Justice in her right to just and fair treatment.

Sincerely

Bijo Francis
Interim Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

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Latest comments

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    The battle lines are drawn and Sri Lankans have the support of the world community for Justice and Democracy. Justice must triumph against the forces of corruption and tyranny. Let us not fail for the future of a free and independent Sri Lanka.

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    The judiciary is assured of the backing of all right thinking people in the country. The world is watching the unfolding drama with a keen interest. Our collective hope and the wish is that the judiciary meet the present challenge with courage and a firm resolution not to repeat the mistakes of the past that undermined the people’s faith in it.

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    Thank you for publishing this article.True the outcome of the impeachment process will either prove that judges in SL are made of sterner material or wax.If all the judges stand up for the elevated status of the Supreme court and slap the GOVT hard people will heave a sigh.

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    If the Chief Justice has followed the rules of natural justice and given the judges of the minor judiciary a chance for fair treatment when she was inquiring into matters affecting their careers and rights, then….YES, she should also deserve a chance for fair treatment. But there are too many instances when judges were not allowed to fulfil their duties on the bench with independance and dignity they deserve. Except for few, most of the harassed judges keep quiet as they still do not want to make it public and bring disrespect to the judiciary.

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    Dear Mr.Bijo Francis. We the Sri Lankan citizens who are looking forward to upheld justice for CJ who is struggling to safeguard democracy in Sri Lanka. thank you for your support.After 30 year war we still fight with a dictatorial regime who try to suppress the freedom of all and to silence our voices. This is a crucial moment and truly we need support from outside Sri Lanka, and your contribution is greatly appreciated. Please spread this SOS to other parts of the world to bring freedom, justice and peace to Sri Lanka. Thank you again.

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    Dear Bijo Francis and all,

    What is happening in Sri Lanka under Rajapaksha regime is very clear which is gradual as well as fast forward march toward dictatorship! From the very birth, the regime was a rogue regime; they stole power by bribing Prabakaran to debar the Northern people from voting. Had that vote been casted it is Ranail that is President today! From that day on they broke every law in the book. In next Presidential election they rigged the election and plundered presidency from SF. At each and every in-between election they robbed the election. They know that deceiving and rigging cannot forever be done and therefore they have decided to go into full dictatorship. If they succeed in chasing CJ away and appoint a crony they would achieve their objective. Defeating this rogue regime cannot be done at local level alone because Sri Lanka being an island and heavily guarded by Navy outside assistance and hardware of attack for an anti-government revolution is very difficult to reach the country-for a revolution to happen you need ammunitions. Therefore the various international players like AHRC, UN, US. UK, ICC etc. must adopt and impose international trade embargos, investigations, inquiries, restrictions on SL government so that it supply and survival line is blocked.

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