Though the politicisation of the Supreme Court and Judiciary began in 1996 with the appointment of Sarath N. Silva as the Chief Justice, a full-scale attack on the Independentce of the Judiciary and the consequent breakdown of the rule of law apparantly began in December last year with the motion to impeach CJ 43, Shirani Bandaranayake.
The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal both gave clear rulings that the impeachment process against Dr. Bandaranayake by Parliamentary Select Committee was illegal and unconstitutional. Despite unprecedented national and international pressure against this illegal impeachment, the government stubbornly if not arrogantly ignored the appeals and in January the President removed CJ Shirani Bandaranayake. During the impeachment process Sri Lanka’s premier body of lawyers the Bar Association of Sri Lanka took a courageous stand and pledged it will not accept CJ 44 Mohan Peiris because the impeachment of CJ 43 was illegal. On March 30, the BASL held its annual convocation to induct its new President Upul Jayasuriya who had bravely taken the forefront in the battle against the impeachment of CJ 43.
Mr. Jayasuriya and the Bar Council did what many observers saw as a historic act of defiance when it decided not to invite CJ 44 Mohan Peiris as traditionally done. Instead the BASL invited Dr. Bandaranayake to sit at the head table of the convocation along with Mr. Jayasuriya and Justice C. Vigneshwaran, who made a hard hitting speech warning that the attack on the independent judiciary could lead to the end of democracy, accountability, transparency and the hallowed checks and balances among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
What happened after the BASL convocation was another devastating blow to the Judiciary. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) headed by Mohan Peiris transferred nearly 100 district judges and magistrates despite pleas by them that transfers in April would affect their family lives and specially the education of the children. Senior District Judges and Magistrates, especially those who held office in the Judicial Services Association, were transferred to remote stations. The BASL called for an emergency meeting of its executive committee, the Bar Council and it appointed a top level committee to probe how the BASL should response to what it sees as political or personal transfers.
Over the past few years, especially after the scrapping of the Independent Police Commission, most people cannot and do not go to police stations because of wide-spread ruling party interference and bribery or both. Now we come to a more dangerous situation where most people will be reluctant to go to courts because of the spreading cancer of politicisation. The government even at this late stage needs to come to an awareness of the serious damage it has done and is doing to the independent judiciary, bringing Sri Lanka perilously close to authoritarianism. If power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.