Most of it happened behind closed doors. The public knew only what was shown on television and what they read in the newspapers, and one caught a glimpse (perhaps) of the true story, depending on which television channel one watched, or which newspaper one read.
Now, six years later, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, is breaking her silence for the first time with two books that detail her harrowing impeachment, which, to date haunts the country’s legal system.
On January 13, 2013 Dr. Bandaranayake, (the first woman ever to head the country’s judiciary), was removed by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who accused her of corruption, and two years later reinstated by incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena. The President’s office branded the impeachment a ‘procedural’ error. Twenty-four hours after her name was cleared, Dr. Bandaranayake retired.
With her retirement the heat of the impeachment crisis – (The Hindu had referred to it as ‘Impeaching a chief justice, Sri Lankan style’ while Arab based network Al Jazeera TV called it ‘Sri Lanka: A tale of two chief Justices’), – simmered down.
Now, nearly half a decade later Dr. Bandaranayake is reviving her ordeal, putting it down in black and white, so as to let the public have an insight into her side of this drama.
Uththareethara Doshabiyogaye Athulanthaya and Hold Me In Contempt – A Memoir – two books (in Sinhala and English) were launched at the Colombo International Book Fair at the BMICH on Friday (20). In both the books Dr. Bandaranayake opens up, providing the reader with a rare account of her professional and personal life.
“There was a lot of discussion from the latter part of 2012 till the time I was impeached in early 2013,” Dr. Bandaranayake told the Sunday Observer following the books’ launch. She added that there were different accounts of what transpired.
The former Chief Justice was astonished at how her story was twisted and twirled to fit a certain narrative. Then, years later in 2018, her family members including her husband and her son urged her to write a book, to record her story, disclose the facts to the people, and let them decide what version of the story to believe.
Dr. Bandaranayake said there were several instances where she was falsely accused of misconduct and corruption –
For example, there were stories circulating that she was maintaining several bank accounts, and has amassed a large amount of money in them, and in another she was accused of purchasing an apartment under her sister’s name.
“In truth it was bought by my only sibling and brother-in-law who were living in Australia at the time. I was the only close relative they had in Sri Lanka. With both our parents gone, I helped them buy their apartment,” she explained.
However, while some vehemently attacked her, most people stood up against the ‘unlawful’ impeachment. The International Commission of Jurists stated in 2013 that ‘the appointment of former Attorney General Mohan Peiris (who succeeded Dr. Bandaranayake as Sri Lanka’s new Chief Justice) raises serious concerns about the future of the Rule of Law and accountability in the country’.
Amidst the turmoil that lasted two months, the President’s Counsel who appeared on behalf of the Chief Justice requested the Parliamentary Select Committee to open the proceedings to the media and public.
“We wanted everyone to see what happened, but our request was rejected,” the former Chief Justice said. Hence her story was kept in the dark till the books were launched this week.
For Dr. Bandaranayake, revealing her version of events was very important because if the impeachment had not taken place, she would have continued her service till April 2023 when she would turn 65 years of age. “I strongly believe in working for my country. That we should do our best to serve our motherland.”
The two books only capture the turbulences that affected the Bandaranayake family from the time she was appointed as Chief Justice in 2011, and till she was unlawfully impeached in 2013.
But her story does not end there. The former Chief Justice has much to say about the incidents that took place between 2013 and 2018, and the time she started to write her memoirs.
“Maybe if time permits I will write another book about that,” she said.