As the Rajapaksa regime faces one of the country’s gravest international crises over alleged human rights violations, war crimes and accountability issues, a connected issue regarding the independence of the Judiciary and the breakdown of the rule of law also continues. The alleged political attack on the independence of the Judiciary with the illegal and unconstitutional impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake has drawn widespread international criticism with the British lawyers’ association in a 66-page report describing it as a notorious “Star Chamber” trial by the Parliamentary Select Committee. The British lawyers have called for the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth, and a change of venue of the Commonwealth Summit scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year. The lawyers also asked the British government to refuse visas to the seven government members of the PSC and to freeze any accounts they may have in British banks.
Canada is spearheading the move for the change of venue and the suspension of Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth on the basis that it has blatantly violated Latimer House principles relating to the independence of the Judiciary and respect for the rule of law.
In Hulftsdorp or Aluthkade, which civic action groups now describe as “Anduwekade”, a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court was appointed on Monday to hear five fundamental rights petititions challenging the appointment of Mohan Peiris as the Chief Justice. The full bench was also to hear petitions challenging the earlier verdicts of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal that the trial to impeach Chief Justice Bandaranayake was illegal and unconstitutional. On Tuesday the nine-judge bench asked Chief Justice Peiris to appoint a ten-judge bench to hear the petitions. The only other SC Judge S.I. Imam has retired and that puts Chief Justice Peiris in a difficult position because he cannot sit on a bench hearing a case relating to him.
Adding to the muddle and breakdown in Hulftsdorp, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake – after having maintained a golden silence for more than two months – issued a statement on Tuesday saying she would not appear before the nine-judge SC bench because she is still the Chief Justice. Today is International Women’s Day and many independent legal personalities might name her as the Woman of the Year because of her courage in the face of threats by powerful forces.
The nine-judge SC bench later put off the case for June with no reasons given. If the Government’s legal advisers had hopes of overturning the earlier verdicts of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal before the Geneva session of the United Nations Human Rights Council end on March 25, they could not achieve their agenda. Even the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meets this month to discuss various mattersincluding the Lankan issue. They will see one hell of a mess in Hulftsdorp with CJ 43 and CJ 44 claiming the highest judicial post and thousands of lawyers in the Bar Association of Sri Lanka getting set for a major battle with the Government under the new BASL President Upul Jayasuriya.