The controversy over a Parliamentary Select Committee convicting Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake has taken a dramatic turn, with three socialist parties in the UPFA government expressing dissent over the probe and the senior-most judge in Sri Lanka appealing that the Chief Justice be given a fair trial.
The LSSP, the CP and the DLF have said they believed it was unjust to try the CJ under Parliament Standing Order 78A. Last Thursday the CJ asked the PSC for five weeks time to study the charges against her. She also wanted to know the rules of procedure such as whether those who made the allegations could be cross-examined. When her requests were rejected the CJ walked out. The opposition members of the PSC also walked out saying it was obvious the CJ will not get a fair hearing.
The LSSP, the CP and the ULF leaders in a statement said the appropriate and universally accepted procedure to probe allegations of a judge of a superior court was through an independent judicial body. They suggested that a committee comprising three retired Supreme Court judges should have first probed the charges against the CJ and submitted a report to the PSC. The party leaders expressed regret that legal bodies such as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and other civic action groups did not suggest or insist on such a procedure which was followed in India and other democratic countries.
In another significant development on Wednesday, Justice C.G. Weeramantry – a former senior vice president of the International Court of Justice and the senior most-judge in Sri Lanka -- appealed that the CJ be given a fair trial. In a statement, Justice Weeramantry said as the senior-most retired judge in the country and as one who has been associated with the law both locally and internationally for 65 years, he felt compelled to make some observations in regard to the current crisis facing the Sri Lankan Judiciary.
“It is a judiciary which has been a great pride to the country and has been highly esteemed both domestically and internationally. An independent judiciary is vital to democracy, for without it citizens lack the basic protection without which a democracy cannot exist,” he said.
The eminent Judge said there could not be a fair hearing unless the tribunal was totally and patently impartial. It was essential that a tribunal deciding on the rights of any citizen must consist of persons who were totally uncommitted before the hearing.
Justice Weeramantry said if any members of the tribunal had directly or indirectly indicated their views upon the matter in advance of the hearing that tribunal ceased to be impartial. It followed that such a tribunal was not functioning according to the rule of law. He also said the rule of law demanded that every person investigated by a tribunal had a right to be informed of the charges and to be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.
We hope President Mahinda Rajapaksa will listen to the advice of this elder statesman when appointing an independent committee or commission to review the PSC conviction.