By Dharisha Bastians
At the very first meeting to probe the impeachment motion, UNP Representatives on the Parliamentary Select Committee urged Chairman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa to use the powers vested in him to summon three retired Supreme Court Judges to study the charges and determine whether there was a prima facie case, UNP Senior Vice President and former member of the PSC Lakshman Kiriella said yesterday.
Kiriella told a media briefing yesterday that under Standing Order 78 (4) the Chairman of the Committee had the right to summon anyone before the Committee.
“At the very first meeting of the PSC, I asserted that this process was obnoxious. Parliamentary MPs were the accusers, we were the prosecutors and we were also the judges. So I urged the Chairman to summon three retired judges to make the process more impartial,” the UNP MP said.
The opposition legislator said this was the first time since leaving the committee that the UNP members in the Committee had informed the public about what had transpired inside the PSC. Kiriella said that the way the Government PSC members addressed the Chief Justice on 6 December before her walkout, made him ashamed to call himself a Sri Lankan legislator. “It was the worst display I have seen in my whole career in parliament – it was disgusting,” he said adding that the Chief Justice had not uttered a single word in response to the abuse.
“There was unseemly haste in the way the Government members wanted to conclude the proceedings. The day after the Chief Justice walked out, we urged that she be granted the five weeks to study the evidence and file her defence. But the Chairman responded – “we are going to finish this today,” Kiriella said, adding that it was at this point that the Opposition decided to quit the Committee.
The UNP MP recalled that when the UNP undertook the PSC process to impeach Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, the Committee headed by Minister Lalith Athulathmudali took six months to conclude the case. Kiriella noted that in that case, there was no evidence to examine. “Chief Justice Samarakoon admitted he made the statement he was being charged with. Still his lawyer, Queens Counsel S. Nadesan, argued for six months on his behalf, saying that it did not constitute misconduct,” he said. In the end the Athulathmudali PSC which had a majority in the Committee, found that Chief Justice Samarakoon was not guilty. “Still they took six months. This committee took under a month and it was an ex parte process,” the UNP legislator said.
He added that when UNP MPs filed a motion of impeachment against former Chief Justice Sarath Silva, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the MPs were within their rights to present the motion, but insisted that Chief Justice Silva had to get a fair trial. “The Prime Minister wrote to our High Commission in London, asking it to find a way to obtain the services of retired Commonwealth judges to perform the impeachment inquiry,” he explained.
“We were in the majority then. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister, but he did not want to finish proceedings in an almighty hurry, he was insistent on due process,” Kiriella said.