By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Let me begin by stating, I neither know nor have I met Hon. Nalin Perera who was sworn in as the country’s 46th Chief Justice last Friday. He was nominated by President Sirisena and unanimously recommended by the five members of the Constitutional Council present, the remaining five being absent. My congratulations to the newly appointed CJ.
Perera is the longest-serving career judge and fifth most senior among the ten Supreme Court judges. It has been said, the President had been pressurized by some groups not to appoint the second most senior Supreme Court judge Justice Eva Wanasundara due to her known association with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. A group of career judges had supposedly met and requested President Sirisena to appoint one of them (career judges) rather than an outsider which has been the case since CJ Parinda Ranasinghe’s appointment in 1988.
Judges of superior courts should not maintain any links with the Executive and Legislative branches of government, especially in the case of countries with an Executive President as in Sri Lanka. In mature democracies, they do not even socialize.
That said, the new appointment can at best be described as a bad joke made with little or no consideration for the good of the country and its legal system.
The new CJ who is 64 years old is due to retire in the early part of 2019. He is the third CJ to be appointed within 45 months.
The purpose of shortlisting at least three candidates for consideration to key positions not elected by the people such as Chief Justice, Commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force, Attorney General and IGP is to ensure the selection of a candidate with the best possible experience and track record for the execution of duties of each position.
A critical factor that has been entirely disregarded as observed from some key appoints is the tenure of service. Appointees need a reasonable amount of time to undertake reform programs and improvements. The appointment of a person with less than one year in office before retirement is not in the best interest of the country.
Regular changes of the Chief Justice, the administrative head of our court system does not enable competent and dedicated judges to give the country and the judicial system the benefit of their expertise.
The conviction of ten persons for the murder of a family of six in Anugunakolapalasse in 1998 has just been completed in the Provincial High Court last week after 20 years. This is only one of thousands of legal cases dragging on for decades. The need for a complete overhaul of the system is a given.
The same applies to service commanders and IGPs. The appointment of a Navy Commander last year, two months before his date of retirement is a case in point.
Ideally, heads of such organizations should be appointed for three years and extensions considered only under exceptional circumstances.
The practice of enabling officials to retire as the head of their respective organizations must be done away for the greater good of the country. Seniority should become a consideration only in the case of a tie between equally qualified and competent finalists with a minimum three-year service period.
Finally, let the selection process be completed at least one month prior to the end of the term of the incumbent to ensure a smooth hand / take over.
These are some of the best practices followed in progressive countries.