Sri Lanka faces constitutional crisis as president sacks chief justice

 

Sri Lanka is facing a deepening constitutional crisis after President Mahinda Rajapaksa went ahead and sacked its most senior judge – a move that critics say undermines the independence of the country’s judiciary.

In step many have claimed was inspired by a desire to remove someone who had blocked several government bills, Mr Rajapaksa on Sunday ratified a vote by the parliament to remove chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake.

“President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed this morning the order removing chief justice Dr Shirani Bandaranayake from office with immediate effect in accordance with the resolution passed by Parliament on January 11, 2013,” said a statement issued by the president’s office. “The removal order was delivered this morning to the official residence of Ms Bandaranayake.”

The move follows months of stand-off between Mr Rajapaksa and his supporters and an increasingly vocal judiciary and legal community which has claimed the moves are undermining the independence of one of the few institutions in Sri Lanka not under the pervasive influence of the government.

Critics say that since 2009, when the government defeated Tamil rebels, Mr Rajapaksa has squandered opportunities for reconciliation and instead intimidated and jailed his opponents and silenced much of the media. One critic, former general Sanath Fonseka, who led the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam but later challenged Mr Rajapaksa in a a presidential election, was jailed for three years.

Ms Bandaranayake, 54, has declined to make any public statement since the crisis began in November, when the government began proceedings to remove her.

But her lawyer, Saliya Peiris, told The Independent, the chief justice had not recognised the legitimacy of the directive given to her by Mr Rajapaksa. “She has received the letter from the president and as far as she is concerned she is not going to recognise the legality of her ouster,” he said. “But as far as her next step, I cannot tell you at this stage.”

The decision to act against the chief justice has been widely condemned by Sri Lanka’s legal community as well as international bodies. Lawyers have boycotted the courts since last week’s vote by parliament to impeach Ms Bandaranayake and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka has urged the legal community not to recognise any new chief justice appointed by the president.

 “The association strongly, unequivocally and with no reservations whatsoever condemns the decision to take up for debate the impeachment motion against...the chief justice,” it said in a statement,

Members of Mr Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance ruling coalition started efforts to impeach Ms Bandaranayake last year amid claims she had acted unconstitutionally. A panel set up by the parliament found her guilty of involving herself in a case focussing on a company from which her sister had bought an apartment.

Ms Bandaranayake said she did not receive a fair hearing and left the committee’s session. A Supreme Court bench subsequently found the panel had no legal jurisdiction to investigate the allegations levelled at the chief justice and another senior court said parliament could take no further action against her. In proceeding with a vote last Friday, the parliament has ignored the rulings of the courts.

“There has been a judgement, and the parliament has decided the judgement was wrong and has acted to ignore it,” said one lawyer, Manjuka Fernandopulle.

One leading opposition politician, Mangala Samaraweera, said the move underscored the “dictatorial nature” of the government.

 “This is something we have been talking about for a long time. I think this impeachment has finally exposed the true face of the administration,” he said. “And this is something the international community should take note of, especially since the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is due to take place in Sri Lanka later this year.”

Many observers believe the government moved against the chief justice after she stalled a series of government bills she claimed were unconstitutional. Among them was the so-called Divineguma bill, a piece of legislation that would have devolved certain powers held by the provincial authorities and handed greater political and financial power to Mr Rajapaksa’s youngest brother Basil, who is the economic development minister.

No-one from the president’s office could immediately be contacted for comment. However, Mohan Samaranayake, a spokesman for the Mr Rajapaksa, told the AFP that he had acted constitutionally after 155 of parliament’s 225 members voted to go ahead with the impeachment of the chief justice. He added: “The letter was hand-delivered to her by a secretary accompanied by presidential security staff.”

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?