In an unanimous decision a three-judge bench of the Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed the writ application filed challenging the validity of presidential aspirant Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Sri Lankan citizenship.
“Formal notices of this application should not be issued to the respondents, and the application should therefore be dismissed,” President of the Court of Appeal Justice Yasantha Kodagoda announced at a few minutes past 6 p.m. inside packed courtroom No. 301.
Hearings on the petition, initially scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, continued for a third day till about 1.30 p.m. last afternoon. Counsels were instructed to file written submissions by 3.15 p.m. The much-anticipated order was to be delivered by 6 p.m., having given the judges enough time for deliberations.
Based on the agreement reached when the Counsel for petitioners and respondents approached the Bench, the order read out last evening would not contain reasoning, due to time constraints. Reasons for the order were to be delivered in writing at a later date.
The petition was filed by civil society activists Gamini Viyangoda and Prof. Chandraguptha Thenuwara, on the basis that the dual citizenship certificate granted to Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 21 November 2005 was illegal since it had been signed when there was no Minister appointed to be in charge of the subject of citizenship and the President had done so unlawfully. The petitioners said they had come to court in view of the fact that Rajapaksa, whose citizenship of Sri Lanka was in question, was seeking to contest in the Presidential Elections.
Lawyers for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, making submissions against yesterday, insisted the petition should be dismissed because it had been filed in bad faith and by ‘political opponents’. President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva insisted that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had acted within the law, because before his Cabinet was appointed, he was the “repository of all Executive power”.
Attorney at Law Suren Fernando, with Niran Anketell and Khyati Wikramanayake, appeared for the petitioners, whose legal action threw a major spanner in the works of the SLPP Presidential campaign in the eleventh hour. Hours before the ruling from the Court of Appeal was due, a deposit was made on behalf of former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa at the Elections Commission, as the SLPP swung into contingency mode.
President’s Counsels Romesh De Silva and Ali Sabry appeared for the fifth respondent Gotabaya Rajapaksa, while President’s Counsel Gamini Marapana appeared for the sixth respondent, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
With the verdict announced the sound of firecrackers reverberated around the Hulftsdorp courts complex as SLPP supporters celebrated the verdict which cleared the way for the former Defence Secretary to formally hand in nominations to contest the 2019 Presidential poll on Monday.
There were dramatic scenes inside the courtroom while Justice Kodagoda was halfway through reading the order of the three-judge bench. Several lawyers and supporters of the former Defence Secretary cheered and clapped loudly, while some even jumped out of their seats.
“Order!” called the President of the Court of Appeal from the Bench, as lawyers for Rajapaksa tried to quiet the crowd and tendered an immediate apology to court.
“It is saddening, shocking, and disgusting conduct. I assume no attorneys at law participated in that disgraceful conduct. If there is any evidence to that effect, such attorneys at law shall be dealt with in terms of the law,” said Justice Kodagoda.
Rajapaksa’s legal team made valiant efforts to quiet the crowd, as President’s Counsel Romesh De Silva said: “I am very sorry my lord, extremely sorry.”
Euphoric SLPP supporters continued to celebrate once the judges had exited the courtroom, speaking loudly into their phones, “api dinum, api dinum”, as the firecrackers erupted outside. Jubilant crowds had also gathered at the barricades set up by police to keep vehicles and mobs at bay ahead of the ruling. Riot police was also on standby, while the court complex was heavily guarded with a police presence just outside Courtroom 301 and the Judges’ entrance.