By Saman Indrajith
The Constitutional Council (CC) considered not only the seniority of nominees but also the recommendation of the Chief Justice and their recognition in the field when appointing superior court judges, CC Chairman and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said yesterday.
The Speaker, making a special announcement in Parliament, at the request of the CC, said the CC had always been impartial, transparent, fair and independent in all its decisions.
All the CC members were allowed to freely express their opinions on the appointments to independent commissions and high posts and a final decision was arrived impartially after evaluating all of the opinions, Jayasuriya said.
“Certain criticisms of the MPs may lead to public misunderstanding on the conduct of the CC. When approving names for the independent commissions we use the same criteria stipulated in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. However, we requested proposals from the MPs if any revision to those criteria is needed in 2016, but to-date we have not received a single proposal. I tabled a report in December, 2016 including the criteria being followed by the CC.
“Some MPs resorted to criticize the judges’ private affairs which are not related to their duty and it was very harmful. The High Court Judges’ Association commended the method we follow in appointing superior court judges. Those appointments are done with the agreement of all members in the CC.”
The Speaker said that most of the appointments made by the CC so far including the Attorney General and the IGP appointments had been unanimous. He added that the preliminary selections for all the appointments were done by the three civil society members.
“There have been instances where we rejected the President’s nominations, but when we explained the reasons, the President accepted our stance. We never made any appointment based on the political allegiance or the appearance of candidates. I wrote to the President also stating that we can discuss and settle any issue. The CC is an independent body and I have to safeguard that independence. I have to respect the opinions of the CC members.”
The Speaker noted that it was former Opposition Leader R Sampanthan who appointed former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa to the CC. Many were surprised and thanked Sampanthan for his stance, the Speaker added.
UPFA MP Dinesh Gunawardena said the Opposition Leader’s views must be sought when deciding the composition of CC. “Of late, the CC has been repeatedly rejecting the President’s nominations for important posts. The current controversy is due to this practice. We have repeatedly questioned what criteria the CC follows in making those appointments. Disregarding the seniority, the CC makes appointments by a secret vote. The political allegiance matters in those appointments by the CC. It is not proper for the CC to reject the President’s nominations. The President respected the Supreme Court decision and acted according to it to avoid a crisis. Isn’t the CC trying to make a new constitutional crisis? The composition of the CC must change.”
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe denied that the CC was partial to any particular political party, adding that no party has a majority in the CC. “The Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader can appoint five members to the CC. Then we have to speak to all the political parties. When Sampanthan was the Opposition Leader, we gave the opportunity to former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who represents the UPFA. But now he has resigned and we thank him for that. That vacancy must be filled after discussing with all other parties.”
The Prime Minister commenting on the seniority of the judges said, “Did you consider seniority? The late Justice Mark Fernando should have been the CJ, but Justice Sarath N Silva was appointed, instead. We all saw what former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake went through. The CC was introduced under the 17th Amendment, but this became defunct with the 18th Amendment presented by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.”
The Prime Minister said that the CC had decided that the Speaker as the Head of the CC must discuss with the President on the prevailing problems with regard to the appointments by the CC.
“Your anger is due to the Supreme Court ruling in December. The people have no such problem. Who behaved in an anti-democratic way? Who made unnecessary comments on the religious faith of the judges? We saw how the MPs misbehaved in the Chamber during the period of political crisis. The Speaker must give us a report on that incident. The CC helped uphold the dignity of the House. There are independent commissions and an independent judiciary in this country. The courts have also given rulings unfavourable to the government. At such instances, the Opposition commended the judiciary. There was no issue when the Attorney General or the IGP was appointed. We saw how problematic the appointments became due to the 18th Amendment.”
Wickremesinghe also questioned why former Minister Prof G.L. Peiris had expressed his intent to go before the Supreme Court on holding the Provincial Council Elections, if they had no confidence in the judiciary.
NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa said that the CC members who were appointed with the agreement between the PM and then Opposition Leader R Sampanthan must resign as former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa had done. He said new members must be appointed with the agreement between new Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe.