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Sordid Unwarranted Attacks on Judiciary by Govt in Parliament

by Chandani Kirinde

An adjournment debate in Parliament on Thursday, moved by Democratic National Alliance (DNA) MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, on the attack on Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Secretary on October 7, turned sordid, with unwarranted attacks on senior officials of the judiciary, by Government members.

The DNA MP’s motion centered on a question he had raised in Parliament two weeks ago, on the attack on JSC Secretary Manjula Thillkaratna, and House Leader Nimal Siripala De Silva’s reply.

Instead of condemning the attack, several senior Government members used the debate to sully Mr. Thillkaratne’s character, as well as cast aspersions on the highest officials of the judiciary, while harking on the wrongdoings of UNP regimes, to justify what is happening today.

External Affairs Minister, a legal academic, Prof. G.L. Peiris opening the debate on behalf of the Government, set the trend for other members of the ruling party to follow, by questioning the appointment of Mr. Thillakaratne as JSC Secretary, saying it had been done in violation of the Constitution.

“The person appointed was 30th in the seniority list. What is his special qualification to hold the post,” the Minister asked. He also tabled in the House the seniority List of District Judges, and said that, many of the problems that have cropped up around the judiciary have come about after this appointment.

“Where a junior person is appointed above seniors, it is an invitation to disaster,” the Minister said, while accusing the JSC of overstepping its authority to prevent a female Magistrate from lodging a police complaint, saying that, such complaints should be first brought to the notice of the JSC.

However, UNP MPs questioned Minister Peiris as to why the Government had not raised these concerns about Mr. Thillkaratne’s appointment to the post more than two years ago.
“Why was the government silent until now, on the JSC Secretary’s appointment? Is it only when people refuse to tow the Government’s line that they become bad,” UNP Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella queried.

DNA MP Dissanayaka, while opening the debate, said the attack was only the tip of the iceberg of a greater threat to democracy in the country. “It is the Government which talks highly of the supremacy and independence of the judiciary, while at the same time tries to undermine it,” he said.

UNP MP Wijedasa Rajapaksha who seconded the motion, said that, since the enactment of the 1978 Constitution, the independence of the judiciary has been on the decline, and the attack on the JSC Secretary was one of the lowest points so far.

“Tampering with the judiciary is a serious crime, and those who do so, will have to a pay a heavy price,” he warned.

Minister Susil Premjayantha, in his speech, recalled how homes of judges were stoned during the UNP regime, and how the act was justified by the rulers at the time, saying it was the democratic right of the people to do so.

“We condemn the attack on the JSC Secretary, but you cannot assume the Government is guilty of the act, before investigations are concluded,” he said.

The debate hit its lowest point when Deputy Minister Jayaratne Herath who, during his speech, tabled three letters in Parliament.

He said they were written by a Magistrate complaining about Mr. Thillkaratne’s inappropriate behaviour, and an anonymous letter which suggested that the attack on the JSC secretary was arranged by the spouse of a senior judicial officer, over a personal issue.

While there were heated arguments between Government and Opposition legislators during the course of the debate, the attacks on members of the judiciary, under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege, by several Government ministers, many of whom are lawyers themselves, did little to enhance the image of either the judiciary or the legislature.