Q: The UNP recently called on the DLF, CP and LSSP to join with the UNP, in order to resolve the issues with the judiciary. Have they responded to this request?
We have still not had a response from them. These three parties from the old left had written to the government stating that they do not agree with the procedure for the impeachment and that there should be a judicial component in the inquiry. The judicial component is missing in this inquiry.
Q: What actions will the UNP take in the future to aid the judiciary in upholding its integrity?
From the time that the impeachment was announced, our position was that the members of parliament have a right to bring an impeachment motion, under the Constitution—we have no qualms about that. In fact at the very first meeting of the Select Committee, I made a written submission, saying that this entire process looks very obnoxious, because the main complainants are the members of the parliament, they are the prosecutors and they are the judges. Nowhere in the world do you get such an inquiry, because a complainant cannot judge his own case.
Therefore I requested the Chairman of the PSC Anura Yapa to refer this matter to three retired judges of the Supreme Court and to get an opinion from them as to whether there was any truth in these allegations. Although it is not included in the Constitution, it is possible because under Section 78 A, the Chairman of the Committee can call for persons, can call for documents and can call for reports—as he wishes. Therefore I said that under the ‘right to call persons’, you can call three retired eminent judges—to go through this case and assist us.
We needed assistance because there are fourteen charges; it is not a joke. Therefore this case should have been referred to three judges that were acceptable to all parties. If these judges found that there was some wrongdoing then we could go into the issues. However he rejected this proposal.
Q: What was the atmosphere within the PSC on that final day of the sittings, when the UNP walked out? Was it antagonistic?
We told the Speaker to have equal numbers in the PSC before it was appointed, from both the government and the opposition—if not the result was a foregone conclusion. From the beginning it was flawed; it appeared to be a witch-hunt because originally, she was asked to come into the room alone without anyone. We objected to this and said that she needed to come with her lawyers, to which they responded that she should come with only one lawyer. How can that be done? There are 14 charges can one lawyer answer all these charges? After a great deal of argument, they allowed five or six lawyers in.
I don’t like to repeat the words that they used, but they did not extend the courtesies members of parliament should have given the Chief Justice. We may differ on many things; but basic courtesies and social graces we must all agree—some members of the government side were rude and very off-handed. Actually, for the first time in my life I felt ashamed to be a Member of Parliament. I have been a member of parliament for 23 years, I would say this is the lowest point in my life—when I saw members of parliament treating the Chief Justice like that.
Q: Do you think this disrespect was shown to her because she was a woman, or regardless of her gender would anyone in her position have been subjected to the same treatment?
I don’t think that the fact that she was a woman played any part in it. Apparently they have been given instructions from the top to find her guilty at any cost that was the impression that we got. From the beginning it was not an inquiry it was an inquisition.
She was victimized. Not just her and her lawyers, but we felt like walking out the way things were going on.
Q: The President has said that an independent commission needs to look into the issue. What confidence do you have in the process that will be conducted?
That is a vote of no-confidence on the Committee. If Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa says that he is going to have an independent committee to look into this PSC report; that is a vote of no confidence on the committee. Right along I said this process which did not uphold the principles of natural justice, should not be carried out, without referral to another panel of judges.
We do not know anything about the charges; I cannot comment on the charges because I have seen them but I did not hear her side of the story. She should have been given a proper trail under commonwealth values.
When Mr. Neville Samarakoon was impeached, the government at that time had more members, however the inquiry went on for 6 months. There was one select committee to gather the evidence and then there was a subsequent select committee to analyze the evidence. The process went on for six months and they found him not guilty. When you read the report of the Select Committee which was presided by Lalith Athulathmudali—you could see the difference, the courtesies extended to lawyers and to Mr. Samarakoon, it was a very fitting process for parliamentary practices and values.
When we went for the first Committee, there was only the resolution—not a single document and not a single list of witnesses was given to us, as members of the Committee, apart from giving anything to her. When we went on the 23rd of November, there was again no list of witnesses or documents. On the third day, I told the Chairman “this cannot go on, we, the members of the committee must be satisfied that there is a case against her and we must be satisfied with the documents”. Thereafter we met on the 5th of December, strangely on that day, we agreed to proceed till the 12th and to ask for one month’s extension on the 7th, but despite the holidays to go on till the 12th and resume again on the 8th of January. The committee agreed to that, it is in the minutes. When we were to meet on the 6th we asked her to come with her lawyers, since the understanding was that we would go on till the 12th. However when we came on the 6th we were told by the committee that; “we can’t go on till the 12th that we have to finish it in one or two days”. We were given the documents on the 5th, and Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was given the documents on the 6th at 4.30 PM and she was asked to appear the following day at 10.30 am for the inquiry—nearly 1000 documents were given to her and her lawyers said they need five weeks’ time. Even in the mediation board, you are given a few months to look into these documents. She wanted five weeks, which is reasonable—however they refused.
The Committee was getting restless with the rude remarks being passed by the government members to the lawyers, apart from the Chief Justice. I don’t think that any self-respecting person would have stayed there, therefore she left.
Further on the 5th the Chairman told us that no witnesses would be called and all decisions would be taken on documents. The Chief Justice was told that she could not cross examine anyone or call any witnesses she would be judged based purely on the documents that she had submitted to various government departments. However when we came on the 7th at 10.30 am, there was a string of witnesses outside—therefore it was a clear betrayal of the assurances given. Within two days the Speaker said that he had received the report; we were members of the committee and therefore we should have been consulted but we were not. The bottom line is that she had less than 24 hours to reply to 14 charges. Therefore, like our leader said, this has entered the Guinness Book for the fastest inquiry ever.
Q: You mentioned that you feel ashamed to be a parliamentarian because of the political culture in the country. What do you think are the reasons for this lack of decorum, is it that there are no basic criteria for entering politics?
Now the parliamentary practice is that you must be patient and listen to the others’ point of view. However today we have lost that art of reply; because they have the numbers, they will shut you down and it is very difficult to make a constructive speech in parliament today. When they can’t answer, they shout you down. This is a very sad situation, because we come to parliament to discuss and debate not to shout.
Q: Is it really a question of numbers? Or the calibre of those in politics today?
I think that standards have gone down all over; starting from the schools all the way to the public service. One thing is that there is no law and order in this country. If the rule of law was upheld things would be different. Today the rule of law is such that, you can do anything and get away if you are close to the government. However the moment you start opposing them the whole legal framework will be turned against you.
consequences for the judiciary
Q: The impeachment process has crippled the judicial system in the country, what consequences do you see for the future?
Many parties have contributed to this present situation; not just the government. When the government tries to bring draconian legislation; it is up to Civil Society, lawyers and even the Courts to stop that kind of legislation.
I think that the 17th Amendment was the best piece of legislation ever brought to the Sri Lankan Parliament; 225 MP’s and 223 voted in favour of it. The 17th Amendment gave a lot of independence to the judiciary, the police, the attorney general and the public service. We should have strengthened that, but without strengthening it the government did away with it.
When the government did away with it; I must say even the Supreme Court approved the 18th Amendment. I think that was the first step towards the present situation. Even the Bar Association was silent and civil society was silent on the issue. The rule of law cannot be upheld by one group of persons alone.
Secondly, 65 of our UNP MP’s have crossed over since 2005. It was an accepted legal practice that when you crossed over you lost your seat in parliament. However the 65 who have crossed over have not lose their seats; when the UNP went to courts they restrained the UNP from dismissing them and that restraining order had been going on for years. Today even for the UNP to support the Judiciary, it finds it difficult because the UNP was weakened by this type of judgments.
They are all reaping what they sowed over the past few years; my appeal to them is that even at this late stage, it is still not too late to turn the tide. We don’t want favours from the judiciary; we want fair justice.
Q: You blamed the judiciary for the present crisis; how much of a blame should the opposition take for the weakening of law and order in this country?
As I told you the opposition became weak because members of parliament were crossing over to the government side, the Courts did nothing to stop them—as a result the UNP and the entire opposition became weak. Actually, to be quite honest, the Courts were involved in forming governments, without interpreting the law. The whole country is reaping what they sowed.
Dilip De Alwis Wednesday, 19 December 2012 07:04 AM
What the Hon MP Kiriella has said is very true. It is the judiciary that brought the whole country to this sad status though the present CJ is not totally responsible. Now the judiciary themselves is tasting their own medicine.
Saliya Wickremasuriy Thursday, 20 December 2012 04:04 AM
Upali Thursday, 20 December 2012 09:38 AM
Yes it is true,You should be ashamed to be a member of parliament.
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