Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake
Publication of a biography by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga as a self-expression was important news for me as one who had written a book about her. Further, the news that the keynote address at the book launch was to be delivered by Shirani Bandaranayake, a former Chief Justice, was another reason that aroused my interest. I did not get an opportunity to read the book yet, but I listened to the speech made by her at the book launch. I feel it was a speech not befitting a person who had held such high office as the Chief Justice of the country.
Raising Chandrika to exemplary heights:
There is nothing wrong with Shirani Bandaranayakehaving a sense of deep gratitude for former President Chandrika and expressing it. But, the manner in which it was pronounced by her as a former Chief Justice, and the essence of her speech do not befit the dignity of the high office held by her. According to her, Chandrika is an ideal character of hers; she has not only attached the highest importance to the independence of the judiciary but also made many sacrifices to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. This statement about President Chandrika has been made not by an ordinary party member, but a former Chief Justice.
The impression it creates is not beneficial to the judiciary either. Chandrika is an ideal heroine for her. The most infamous election fraud in Sri Lanka took place during her tenure. It was also during her regime that the parliamentarians of the ruling party were allowed to become tavern owners. The plunder and the rapacious nature of the state administration assumed the character of an unceasing flow during her regime.
Beddagana Sanjeewa, a trusted colleague of Chandrika’s security team, can be considered as a pet criminal brought up in the lap of Temple Trees. He ruled the underworld from Temple Trees. He implemented programs that oppressed and persecuted individuals at the behest of Chandrika or her close associates.
The case of Rookanatha Goonetileke and Chandra Leka, a couple of veteran singers is one such example. Setting fire on the house of actress Anoja Weerasinghe, the attack on the house of Lasantha Wickrematunga are two other examples. The shadow of Beddagana Sanjeewa had fallen over the assassination of Rohana Kumara, the editor of the Satana, a controversial tabloid and the murder of Kumar Ponnambalam, father of MP Gajan Ponnambalam.
Moratuwa Saman, who was responsible for the assassination of Kumar Ponnambalam, had revealed this to Daya Perera, a reputed criminal lawyer. It was after that, that Moratuwa Saman was killed. These incidents demonstrate that the worst things that happened during the Rajapaksa regime and the previous UNP regime had also happened during the regime of Chandrika as well.
About the independence of judiciary
The most ironic part of the former Chief Justice’s speech is the reference she has made in regard to the sacrifices Chandrika has made to safeguard the independence of judiciary. If the judiciary had some element of independence, it was Chandrika who destroyed it. It was Chandrika, who broke the backbone of judiciary which did not cow down before any other authority, even in the face of horrific attacks made by President Jayewardene who commanded a five-sixths majority in Parliament.
Chandrika ruined the stature of judiciary by appointing a corrupt friend of hers to the post of Chief Justice (Sarath Silva who held the post of Attorney General) who was trapped in an extremely desperate situation. At the time, the judiciary was at the throes of a cataclysmic cancer rotting the inner portals of it. H.L. de Silva, who was considered to be one of the most respected lawyers in the country at the time, described this situation as follows: “Due to the curtailment of independence and lack of moral integrity, the entire judicial process might diminish to a level of a clown of a meaningless theatre. I am here to express my frustration even at the risk of becoming somewhat unpopular for not coming forward to express our sensitivity vigorously in the face of the catastrophe looming before our eyes or at least not demanding for a strong step to be taken to prevent it happening.”
H.L. de Silva made this statement at a time when an important phase of the struggle I made against the horrific cancer that overwhelmed the judiciary had been successfully completed and the waves of the news of success were floating in the air. I had filed a case against three selected persons of the judiciary, namely Magistrate Lenin Ratnayake, District Judge Upali Abeyratne and Attorney General Sarath Silva.
As a result of the voice raised against the first two, the Judicial Service Commission appointed two tri-party committees composed of the Chief Justice and Justices of the Court of Appeal to examine the allegations made against the two judges. The two committees found the two judges guilty of the charges. With that, the first phase of my struggle came to an end; the second or the foremost phase of the battle began with the filing of a complaint against Attorney General Sarath Silva. The Supreme Court decided to hear both the complaints against the Attorney General (filed by myself and Chemical Engineer Jayasekara respectively) and assigned the responsibility of conducting the preliminary investigation of my complaint to Judge Shirani Bandaranayake.
Judge Amir Ismail was assigned the responsibility of conducting investigation of the complaint made by Jayasekara. Judge Marak Fernando was assigned to oversee both cases. Sarath Silva, who at the time had become one of the close confidants of President Chandrika, was in a terrible state of strangulation, being trapped in this case.
Judiciary turned upside down
Chief Justice G.P.S. de Silva went on retirement when the Supreme Court was investigating the allegations of corruption against the Attorney General. The exemplary heroine of Shirani Bandaranayake taking the advantage of the opportunity, appointed infamous Sarath Silva, her friend, as the Chief Justice, rescuing him from the trap he was in, in expectation of manipulating him to take control of the Supreme Court in an informal and indirect way. This she did despite instructions from her three legal advisers (H.L. de Silva, R.K.W. Gunsekera and E.D. Wickramanayaka) not to do so.
Dato Param Kumaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on the subject of judiciary, condemned the President’s move and told the BBC that it was a serious act of misdemeanour. He further added, “This appointment has a direct bearing on the independence of the judiciary. And both petitions should have been heard and finalised before the appointment was made.”
Traditionally, the inauguration ceremony of a new Chief Justice used to be organised by the Bar Association. But the inauguration ceremony of Sarath N. Silva as the new Chief Justice was organised by the Presidential Secretariat. The extramarital wife of the Chief Justice also attended the inauguration ceremony.
The next most important thing was the attendance of the District Judge Upali Abeyratne also in the ceremony, who was convicted by a three-judge panel on charges of illegal and oppressive hearing of the divorce case filed by chemical engineer Jayasekara against his wife, the 1st respondent and making Sarath Silva (who had an extramarital relationship with the 1st respondent) a co-respondent of the case.
I am not going to reiterate the enormous damage done to the judiciary following the appointment of Sarath Silva as the Chief Justice. What happened afterwards is well-known. Justice Shirani Bandaranayake also ganged up with the corrupt Chief Justice for a long time and followed a policy of supporting the latter in the destructive process pursued by him. She was the judicial officer in charge of the investigation of my complaint; I have the right to know what has happened to my complaint and I believe that she should have at least clarified to me what has happened to it.
Subsequently she too, got into altercations with the Chief Justice. After that she resigned from the Judicial Service Commission, accusing the Chief Justice of insulting her in foul language. Subsequently when she was appointed the Chief Justice, she did nothing to reverse the decline set in the judiciary. In the impeachment motion against her, I opposed it because of the narrowness of the government’s aspirations and the frantic nature of the attempt to remove her from office, denying her a fair investigation. The third reason was that it tended to strengthen the government’s interventions over the judiciary.
However, the manner in which she had acquired a valuable plot of land of 17.95 perches from Model Farm Road, Narahenpita, refusing the land offered her from Beddagana when she joined the Supreme Court on recommendation of Professor G.L. Peiris is also problematic. Even, the story behind the charge number 01 in the impeachment against her raises reasonable suspicion about the Chief Justice. The Chief Justice of the country should not have been involved in whatever manner in the purchase of property related to a case being heard before her. Also, the fact that the Chief Justice’s husband held a position that can be considered a major political appointment does not comply with the esteem of the office of Chief Justice as well as the dignity of the judiciary.
It was during Chandrika’s rule that the corrupt system that enabled the MPs to change parties and join the ruling party without losing their parliament seats despite the fact that they were not allowed do so according to the Constitution, was established with the connivance of the judiciary.