Editorial - Hands off the Judiciary

29 September 2012 12:43 am - 3     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Despite periodic misjudgments and some party politicisation, the judiciary after the 1978 constitution for the executive presidency has been the last bastion of democracy. The first executive president J.R. Jayewardene for the first time appointed a private lawyer Neville Samarakoon as the Chief Justice. Though it was unprecedented there was little opposition to the appointment of Mr. Samarakoon as he was one of the best lawyers. What happened after that was apparently not what Mr. Jayewardene expected. Mr. Samarakoon, true to his character and conscience acted with independence and integrity giving judgements strictly according to the law and principles of justice.

The interference and intimidation by the President became so intolerable that Mr. Samarakoon, at a public meeting made a hard-hitting speech against the Government. An angry president concocted some charges against the CJ and used his 5/6 majority in parliament to introduce a motion to impeach Mr. Samarakoon. But the CJ, one of the best in the country, decided to quit and left the country a sadder but wiser man.

In 1995 President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed the then Attorney General Sarath N. Silva as the Chief Justice. At first there were few objections because Mr. Silva was widely regarded as a brilliant lawyer and judge. But gradually party politicisation crept in. Ultimately President Kumaratunga, who allegedly tried to influence the Supreme Court, found herself on a confrontational course with the Chief Justice, who put her out of office one year before she wanted to go. The CJ appeared to be on good terms with the new president Mahinda Rajapaksa for some time, but when he retired at 65, there was friction between the executive and the judiciary because of several independent judgements including the severe rebuke and order for the removal of the powerful Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera. Now Sarath N. Silva is with the opposition and speaking out strongly against the corruption and dictatorial trends in the Rajapaksa administration.

It is in this context that we come to the dangerous confrontation between the executive and the judiciary. Last week the Judicial Services Commission issued an unprecedented statement warning of a grave threat to the independence of the judiciary. In recent months the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake, has been giving bold independent judgements especially on the A/Level Z-score issue and on the Divi Neguma Bill. Government leaders, apparently affected, angered or annoyed by these decisions, are in a subtle way trying to intimidate the judiciary amid speculation of a constitutional amendment to limit the term of office of the CJ to 5 years. If this trend continues, it could be the last nail in the coffin of democracy, and we would face the deadly perils of a dictatorship rampant with corruption and stooge politics with little or no transparency and accountability.

  Comments - 3

  • King Barnette Saturday, 29 September 2012 05:31 PM

    IT IS BLTANTLY CLEAR THAT THE PRESIDENT WANTS THE CHIEF JUSTICE REMOVED AND MORE ALLIGNING PERSON BE REPLACED BY THE CJ. BUT BE ASSURED WHO EVER HE MAY BE, HIS DAYS ALSO WILL BE NUMBERED IN NO TIME.MERVYN SILVA TYPE OF MUTUALCONFIDANT IS HARD TO FIND. MR. DEMOCRACY IS NOW BREATHING ALSMOST HIS LAST.AMEN!

    Jay Tuesday, 30 October 2012 03:38 AM

    We should not call Sri Lanka as a democratic socialist republic. None of the values are practiced here. A pathetic situation

    Kaslana Saturday, 29 September 2012 01:29 PM

    The hounrable Mr. Nevile Samarakoon, a legal luminary of his time, did not leave the county "sadder" as stated by the author. Nevile was too angry with himself to be a sad man. Neville left absolutely elated but angry for having misjudged the executive and the future tyrants to follow.


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