Editorial of the Daily Mirror of April 9, 2013
Your Editorial referred above commenced with a statement that the “Politicization of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary began in 1996 with the appointment of Sarath N. Silva as Chief Justice …”.
This comment is factually incorrect and leads to an adverse impression in the public mind as to my appointment as Chief Justice. Hence as a regular reader of your newspaper I would kindly request you to give adequate publicity to this clarification.
In 1996 I was not appointed as Chief Justice and I held the office of Attorney General. The appointment made in 1996 which was vehemently opposed as having been made on political considerations was that of Shirani Bandaranayake, to the Supreme Court. She was appointed at the age of 39 to the Supreme Court directly from the academic staff of the University. It was alleged that she was appointed at the behest of Professor G. L. Peiris, the then Minister of Justice who was her superior in the university. Several applications were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the appointment on this ground. Shirani Bandaranayake, Professor G. L. Peiris and the State were Respondents. Prominent members of the Bar appeared for the Petitioners. And, it was my lot as the Chief Law Officer of the State to defend the appointment. I vividly recall that when I stood up before the 7 Judge Bench, none in the packed Court house except my juniors from the AG’s Department supported my cause. They too wished that I sit down fast without crossing the path of a hostile bench.
I argued the case for days. Finally the Bench was divided and the applications were dismissed on legal ground. If I had let go on that case the judicial saga of Shirani Bandarnayake would have ended where it started in 1996.
I was appointed Chief Justice 3 years later in 1999 following a clear precedent according to which an Attorney General who had been a Judge of the Supreme Court is appointed to that post. Previously Sir Allen Rose, Henry Basnayake and Victor Tennakone had been appointed Chief Justice on this basis. On several occasions the most senior judge of the Supreme Court had been overlooked and another appointed as Chief Justice. In 1977 Neville Samarkone who had been never held judicial office was appointed Chief Justice overlooking George Samarawickrama, a highly respected senior judge of the Supreme Court.
Such was the fate of Raja Wanasundara who was overlooked and never appointed Chief Justice. In these circumstances is it fair to pinpoint my appointment as a beginning of a process of politicization?
I have been a career public and judicial officer with a maximum period of 41 years of service. I have been appointed to different offices in the Superior Courts by Presidents Jayawardena, Premadasa, Wijetunga and Kumaratunga. Is it fair to consider the last appointment as being political?
Sarath. N. Silva.