By Dharisha Bastians
The Court of Appeal yesterday issued a Writ Certiorari quashing the findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee that probed the motion of impeachment against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, giving the Head of the country’s Judiciary a major victory even as the ruling UPFA Government prepared to impeach her from office later this week.
Even as the Government informed Opposition party leaders that it had no intention of abiding by Court orders during a contentious party leaders’ meet in Parliament last morning, a three judge bench of the Court of Appeal declared that there was no valid finding under the law on the basis of which the Legislature can vote to remove Chief Justice Bandaranayake from office.
The case was taken up before President of the Court of Appeal S. Skandarajah and Justices Anil Gooneratne and A.W.A. Salaam at 10 a.m. yesterday.
After hearing from President’s Counsel Romesh de Silva, who appeared on behalf of the Chief Justice and filed the writ application seeking to void the findings of the PSC and restrain the Speaker from taking any further action on the impeachment, Court adjourned at 12:20 for several minutes before hearing submissions by Attorney General Palitha Fernando PC. The verdict by the Court was delivered after a second adjournment until 3:30 p.m.
Also appearing before the Court of Appeal was Attorney-at-Law M.A. Sumanthiran for Opposition PSC member and TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and Attorney-at-Law J.C. Weliamuna for Opposition PSC member and DNA MP Vijitha Herath.
Making his submissions, De Silva PC said that the PSC comprised Government-nominated members, meaning that the accusers, prosecutors, and judges were all the same, which was contrary to all norms governing fair and impartial trial.
According to the Chief Justice’s Counsel, the impeachment was motivated by a desire by the Government to remove Bandaranayake and install a stooge in her place that would follow the Government’s instructions.
During proceedings yesterday, the Court was informed that Parliament had decided to go ahead with a debate and vote on the impeachment later this week, which prompted the Chief Justice’s lawyers to stress the urgency of her petition. De Silva said that the independence of the Judiciary was at stake.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General questioned the Court of Appeal’s jurisdiction in the writ application during submissions. Fernando PC said that the Constitution deliberately leaves the Judiciary out of the impeachment of a Superior Court judge and argued that therefore the Appeal Court should not review steps taken to impeach the Petitioner. Writ jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal does not extend to enabling review of Parliamentary proceedings, he said.
Parliament is preparing to debate and vote on the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice on the basis of the PSC report which found Bandaranayake guilty on three out of 14 charges cited in the motion. However, in a historic ruling last week, the Supreme Court determined that the PSC had no legal authority to make findings that would adversely affect the office of a superior court judge.
Rights groups and international organisations including the UN and the Commonwealth have expressed grave concern about the process undertaken to impeach Chief Justice Bandaranayake. Legal analysts warn that the Legislature’s decision to override and ignore the dictates of the country’s highest Judiciary will prove devastating to the rule of law and may result in anarchy.