Lawyers’ Collective opposes President’s proposal to extend AG’s term

Monday, 10 June 2024 01:37 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Lawyers’ Collective, a civil society group comprising legal professionals, has voiced its opposition to the recent recommendation by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to extend the term of Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam beyond the mandatory retirement age of 60. In a letter addressed to the members of the Constitutional Council, the Prime Minister, and other key figures, the letter outlined several serious concerns regarding the proposal.

The Collective recalled a similar situation in 2008 when an attempt to extend the term of an Attorney General resulted in a Fundamental Rights application before the Supreme Court. They noted that this legal challenge ultimately led to the Attorney General in question opting for retirement rather than accepting the extension. According to the Collective, the Constitution does not empower the Constitutional Council to approve extensions for officials who are subject to a mandatory retirement age, thereby rendering such a proposal legally questionable.

A key concern highlighted by the Lawyers’ Collective is the potential for political interference. They noted that extending the Attorney General’s term could expose the office to political criticism and undermine its independence by making it appear susceptible to the influence of the Executive President. The Collective argues that this move could set a dangerous precedent, suggesting that officers within the Department of the Attorney General can seek extensions based on Presidential favour, thereby compromising the impartiality of the office.

They also warned that such an extension could damage the office’s reputation and independence, which are crucial for maintaining democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. The letter emphasised that the retirement policy serves as a mechanism to ensure the regular infusion of new ideas and perspectives, which are essential for national progress and the effective administration of justice.

The Lawyers’ Collective also points out that granting an extension would deprive other competent and eligible officers of the opportunity to ascend to the high office of Attorney General. They said this could stifle the development and growth of future leaders within the department, who might bring fresh ideas and innovation to the role.

The organisation also underscored the importance of adhering to constitutional provisions and maintaining the integrity of the Attorney General’s office. The Collective said it fears that an extension could make the office appear dependant to the Executive President, thus eroding public trust in its independence.

The Lawyers’ Collective, therefore, urged the Constitutional Council to carefully consider the broader implications of approving such an extension. They stressed the importance of upholding the principles of democracy, fairness, and the rule of law by allowing for the regular turnover of key judicial positions. The Collective said it firmly believes that preserving the independence and integrity of the Attorney General’s office is vital for the continued health of Sri Lanka’s democracy.