By Dharisha Bastians
The dubious procedure adopted to impeach the country’s Chief Justice may cost Sri Lanka its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe warned yesterday. The Opposition Leader was speaking at a seminar entitled ‘The People’s Sovereignty and Human Rights’ organised by the Platform for Freedom, a coalition of civil society organisations, to mark the 64th International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
Wickremesinghe said that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2003, the Latimer House Principles were adopted in collaboration with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association.
“These principles clearly stipulate that judges in Commonwealth nations must be removed in a process that is independent and impartial. As a Commonwealth member state we are bound by these collective commitments,” he explained.
The UNP Leader said that before the Parliament debates the motion of impeachment in early 2013, the Speaker must declare whether the impeachment process of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake has been conducted in adherence to the Latimer House Guidelines for the removal of a judge.
He said that Government members of the PSC had treated the Chief Justice very poorly during the proceedings. “Their treatment was not in keeping with the dignity due to her office,” the UNP Leader added.
“In the end, not only will the Chief Justice get impeached, Sri Lanka will lose her place in the Commonwealth,” Wickremesinghe charged. “We became members of the Commonwealth before we even joined the UN. Now we’re in trouble at the UN. Are we trying to create problems for ourselves in the Commonwealth as well?” he said.
Referring to the private member’s bill introduced by UNP MP and Bar Association President, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, which sets out a procedure for removing judges, by an independent tribunal of three judges from Commonwealth countries, Wickremesinghe said the only way to remedy the situation was to endorse it as an urgent bill.
“The Opposition will endorse and pass the bill without debate. Then the process can be conducted fairly. That is the only way out of this mess,” he said.
Wickremesinghe went on to say that the Government members on the Parliamentary Select Committee had hurriedly called over 30 witnesses late at night, after the Opposition members on the Committee quit in protest at the unfairness of the proceedings.
“This report should enter the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest select committee report ever presented before a parliament,” he quipped.