By Dharisha Bastians -
Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa in a special address to parliament on Thursday evening (29) ruled that the Legislature will not bow to the dictates of external bodies and asserted that Members of the House were not bound by court orders.
He said that no outsiders had the authority to direct parliament or question committees set up by him.
The Speaker’s ruling triggers a major showdown between Sri Lanka’s legislature and the judiciary, as the House readies to probe charges of misconduct by the country’s top judge and rule on whether she should be removed.
Members of Parliament were summoned to the chamber at 6:30 p.m. to hear the Speaker provide his determination on a matter of special privilege raised by House Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva who asked for the Speaker’s verdict on whether notice issued by the courts on members of the Parliamentary Select Committee set up to probe the impeachment motion against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake was a breach of parliamentary privilege.
The Speaker of Parliament and the 11 member legislative committee probing the impeachment of the Chief Justice have been cited as respondents in litigation filed before the Court of Appeal and referred to the Supreme Court and all concerned legislators have been issued notice by the courts.
Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP also charged during submissions on the privilege issue that the legislature was supreme. “The Courts are set up through legislative acts. Hypothetically if the constitution is for some reason destroyed, who comes together to make another? The Parliament. Then who sets up the Supreme Court? Parliament,” Nanayakkara charged.
In support of De Silva’s privilege question, UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe charged that in probing the impeachment, the legislature had to abide by the 1978 constitution and the Standing Orders of Parliament. Wickremesinghe poo-poohed legal interpretations that the Sri Lankan constitution was framed on Montesque’s separation of powers doctrine and said it had been framed according to a political doctrine espoused by late President J.R. Jayewardene. “He must have had his reasons for framing it this way,” he said, while urging Speaker Chamal to follow in the footsteps of former Speaker Anura Bandaranayake who ruled during an impeachment motion in 2001 that Parliament was not bound to abide by the orders of the courts. At the time, the opposition was bringing the motion of impeachment against then CJ Sarath N. Silva. President Chandrika Kumaratunga left with no option due to the constitutional deadlock between the courts and parliament, prorogued the House allowing the motion of impeachment to lapse.