COLOMBO: The efforts to impeach Sri Lanka’s chief justice lack due process and appear to be the culmination of attacks against the judiciary’s independence, a UN official said, urging authorities to reconsider the impeachment.
In a highly criticised investigation, a parliamentary committee found Chief Justice Shirani Banadaranayke guilty of unexplained wealth and misuse of power and said last month she was unfit for office. Parliament is expected to vote for her impeachment when it convenes this month, and the president then could decide to dismiss or retain her.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, urged that the impeachment be reconsidered ‘due to the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees and to ensure that the judiciary can operate free from external pressures, threats or any interference’.
Bandaranayake’s case has drawn international concern, including from the United States, and opposition party activists, lawyers and rights activists have protested that the impeachment process was unfair. “To be compatible with both the principle of separation of powers and international human rights law norms, disciplinary proceedings against judges should be conducted by independent commissions and guarantee full respect for due process and fair trial,” Knaul said in her statement issued Monday.
She added that ‘recent steps taken by the executive and legislative towards impeaching the Chief Justice appear to be the culminating point of a series of attacks against the judiciary for asserting its independence’.
Knaul also said threats against members of the judiciary and lawyers, as well as interference in their work, have dramatically increased over the past few months in Sri Lanka.
Bandaranayake, her lawyers and four opposition lawmakers on the parliamentary committee walked out during a hearing on her case, saying it was unfair. Seven ruling party lawmakers delivered the verdict in their absence, which Bandaranayake told the court was illegal.
Bandaranayake was found guilty of not disclosing details of 20 bank accounts, buying a house for another person as an attorney and then taking judicial control of cases against the company that sold the property. She was also found to have a conflict of interest because she has supervisory powers over judges hearing a corruption case against her husband, who is a former state bank chairman.
Bandaranayake has denied the charges against her. In relation to the case against her husband, Bandaranayake said the claim of a conflict of interest was based not on facts but on probabilities.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Bandaranayake in 2011, but the government became critical of her after she ordered that a proposed law giving vast powers to the economic development minister was illegal. The minister is President Rajapaksa’s brother. Bandaranayake has filed a case with Sri Lanka’s Appeal Court, saying her conviction was unfair and asking the court to quash the parliamentary committee report. The case is scheduled to be heard Thursday.