three-day workshop began in Parliament yesterday to educate MPs on the full restoration of parliamentary democracy by making Parliament to be like a virtual government with all MPs playing a proactive role in making laws and implementing them.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his opening speech said one of the goals was to give more power to parliamentary select committees or oversight committees so that even backbenchers in the government and Opposition could take part actively in the effective implementation of laws for the common good of the people. He said at present the President, the Prime Minister, Ministers and Deputy Ministers, officials and other influential personalities ran the government while a large number of backbenchers had little or nothing to do with law-making or its implementation. This process was not good for effective parliamentary democracy and it needed to be amended through the proposed Constitutional Amendments. Some MPs from Britain, widely recognised as the home base of parliamentary democracy, also have come here to give keynote talks at the workshop.
Another vital area for the new government to tackle is the full restoration and consolidation of the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary specially the Supreme Court. In the United States, where the Constitution is recognised as one of the most enlightened documents produced by human beings, the death of a Supreme Court Judge has created a controversy where heated debates are taking place in the race for the Presidential nomination.
Whatever the US may be doing or not doing in world politics, the checks and balances in its democratic processes are widely admired and Sri Lanka could take some lessons from it specially in our efforts to consolidate the independence of the Supreme Court.
Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper reported that the US Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of 79-year-old Justice Antonin Scalia could be monumental for a number of hugely controversial issues before the Court.
Paying tribute to Justice Scalia, President Barak Obama said he would nominate a successor. In the Senate and on the campaign trail, however, Republicans said they would not cooperate, even to the extent of scheduling a nomination hearing in the Senate they control, at any point in the president’s final year in office. The US could be saddled for a year or more with only eight justices on the Supreme Court, balanced four-four between Conservatives and Liberals. What will this – and the political identity of Justice Scalia’s eventual successor – mean for the key issues that divide America today—including abortion, gun control, immigration and the environment? At Saturday night’s Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Texas Senator Ted Cruz warned: “We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the States.”
The US Constitution provides that Judges of the Supreme Court or Federal Courts “shall hold their Offices during good behaviour.” The term “good behaviour” is interpreted to mean that judges may serve for the remainder of their lives, although they may resign or retire voluntarily. A Judge may also be removed by impeachment and conviction by congressional vote (hence the term good behaviour). This has occurred fourteen times. Three other Judges, Mark W. Delahay, George W. English, and Samuel B. Kent, chose to resign rather than go through the impeachment process.
In Sri Lanka, the Chief Justice and the other Judges of the Supreme Court are required to retire at the age of 65 unless they are impeached as the Jayewardene-government tried to do in the case of Neville Samarakoon and the Rajapaksa government successfully did, though eventually to its undoing, in the case of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The need to retire at 65 has positives and negatives. Among the negative effects, as we have seen often in the past few decades, is that some Judges are known to have given politically-motivated verdicts apparently because top posts could be obtained
Therefore the US provision for judges to go on for as long as they are physically and mentally capable may be good for Sri Lanka also unless there are questions related to good behaviour.