By W. Sriyananda
The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), appointed to investigate allegations against Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, handed over its report to the Speaker last week.
The report found the Chief Justice guilty of three charges, despite four of its members – all in the opposition – walking out of the proceedings claiming the process to be biased. A few days later, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that he would appoint an independent committee to assess the PSC report, adding more confusion to the already complicated conflict between the three arms of the government.
Ceylon Today spoke to PSC Chairman, Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Senior Counsel representing the Chief Justice, Srinath Perera and human rights lawyer, Senior Counsel, J.C. Weliamuna for their views on the impeachment process, the report and the appointment of an independent committee. Following are excerpts:
Proceedings were of a confused nature – Senior Counsel Srinath Perera
Q: You are of the opinion the PSC proceedings were not conducted in a proper manner. Would you elaborate on it?
A: The PSC proceedings were of a confused nature. The quorum required was not in the PSC. Two PSC members had been cited as unsuitable as they had become aggrieved parties of a Court ruling given by the CJ.
Q: What are your views about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proposal to appoint an independent committee to look into the findings of the PSC?
A: Appointing an independent committee is the discretion of the President and there is no legal provision to that
But, there is no authority for some other committee to look into the findings of the PSC. On the other hand, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa said the parliamentary powers are supreme. Then how is it possible to appoint some other committee to look into the findings given by a committee appointed by the Speaker?
Biased and unilateral – Convener, Lawyer for Democracy, Senior Counsel J.C. Weliamuna
Q: What is your opinion about the PSC report?
A: That report was signed only by seven United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) parliamentarians, out of 11 PSC members. The report should have been shown to the opposition committee members by the PSC Chairman, despite the opposition members walking out of the Committee. That is the accepted practice of an investigation. Undoubtedly, this report is biased and unilateral. Therefore, no one will accept this report as fair.
Q: Under these circumstances, what do you propose?
A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself said the PSC report should be scrutinized by an independent panel. The government should appoint a new committee to probe the charges levelled against the Chief Justice. An investigation should be conducted in a transparent manner and in accordance with the rule of law.
Q: The government media attempted to show the legal community is divided on this issue.
A: It is a totally baseless lie. All the lawyers are united in the fight for the independence of the Judiciary.
Q: There are a few cases pending in the Supreme Court, referred to by the Court of Appeal, seeking a ruling on the legality of the PSC. What do you have to say about it?
A: The judgments of those cases will be vital and all the lawyers are waiting for the outcome of those cases.
CJ came with premeditated plan -PSC Chairman, Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa
Q: Your Committee completed a report on the allegations against the Chief Justice within one month. Do you like to brief us about the challenge?
A: The timeframe was given and our responsibility was to complete the task accordingly. The report was prepared with a high sense of responsibility in terms of the procedures laid down in the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
Q: There were 14 charges against the Chief Justice. Would you comment on them?
A: The charges that were to be probed were serious and she was guilty of them. The only way for her to respond was by walking out of the PSC, saying she had lost confidence in the hearings.
Q: The Chief Justice and her lawyers, as well as the opposition members in the PSC, charged two ruling party members in the committee abused the CJ, and failed to give due respect to her. What do you have to say about this charge?
A: Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake was not verbally abused by any member of the PSC. I totally reject that allegation.
Q: Why did the CJ and her lawyers walk out from the hearings?
A: The Chief Justice came to the meetings with the pre-conceived plan of walking out of the PSC. From the beginning of the PSC proceedings, she claimed she had no confidence in it, and therefore, her modus operandi of hoping to walk out without offering a defence, was evident from the very start. She refused to take the oath before the PSC proceedings and did so after much persuasion. We understood she had come with a premeditated plan to spurn the PSC. As she was aware of her conduct in the topmost legal position as Chief Justice, she wanted to repudiate the PSC to get away from it.
Q: How do you assess the impeachment motions in the parliamentary system?
A: Impeachment is the due process laid down in the Constitution in the face of a wrongdoing. This is in the Constitution under which the impeachment of the then Chief Justice, Neville Samarakoon, in 1978 was mooted and Hansard reports at that time stated this was the only way to probe the conduct of a Chief Justice.