Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said yesterday the move to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake must be denounced by all who cherish democracy.
“It is our duty to protect the judiciary because by protecting the judiciary, we protect ourselves and our fundamental freedoms,” she said and urged government MPs not to view the issue from the narrow perspective of political gain.
Ms. Kumaratunga expressed her surprise that a SLFP-led government had decided to follow the J.R. Jayewardene Constitution and Standing Orders rather than amending the Standing Orders and bringing about legislation envisaged in the Constitutional Bill of 2000 presented by a SLFP-led government under her to inquire into the conduct of judicial officers.
Some excerpts from Ms. Kumaratunga’s statements:
Under our Constitution, where a motion for the impeachment of the President is passed by Parliament with a two-third majority, the allegations are forwarded to the Supreme Court for inquiry or report. Thus, the guilt of the President is determined not by the parliamentarians who have made the allegations but by the highest court of the land. A mayor, chairman or member of a local authority can be removed only after a retired judicial officer has inquired and found such person guilty of incompetence and abuse of power and such findings are liable to be judicially reviewed. While a dismissed workman can go before a Labour Tribunal and appeal to the High Court and the Supreme Court, a public officer can appeal to the Public Service Commission and then to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and if still dissatisfied have recourse to judicial review by the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. However, under the JR Jayewardene Constitution, judges of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal who constitute the highest authority that dispense justice to all, have no remedy if justice is denied to them.
The issue of safeguards for judges of superior Courts against whom allegations are made was considered by the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform appointed during my Presidency. On the basis of consensus reached in the Select Committee, both my Government’s Proposals for Constitutional Reform and the Constitution Bill, that I presented to Parliament on August 3, 2000, provided for an inquiry of a judicial nature to be held outside Parliament when a motion for impeachment is presented against a judge. In the case of the Chief Justice, the inquiry would be held by a committee consisting of three persons each of whom hold, or have held, office as judge in the highest Court of a Commonwealth country and in the case of any other judge by a committee consisting of three persons who hold, or have held, office as a judge of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal
Many judicial appointments made in our history have led to controversies and my administration was not spared in that regard. A judge may or may not perform to the expectations of the appointing authority or of the People. But judicial decisions need to be respected by all, especially the government. Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent lawyers, once said, “There have been bad judges, there will be bad judges but there are no bad judges”. Such is the spirit in which unpalatable judgments need to be received.
A government that believes that the judiciary must act according to its will and whims, bodes serious danger to democracy and people’s freedoms. (Susitha R. Fernando)