- CJ 43 says her fight was battle for judicial independence, integrity
On her final day on the bench of the Supreme Court, 24 hours after her reinstatement as lawful Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake speaks out for the first time on the ‘turmoil and peril’ of the past two years since her impeachment. She told the ceremonial chamber that was packed to capacity that over the past 746 days since the impeachment watching the downfall of the Supreme Court had been as painful of the personal impact of her unlawful sacking.
Former Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake resigned from her post yesterday – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
Today marks 746 days since I left office on the basis of an unlawful and illegal impeachment. I am glad that I am able to see before me today those who stood with me since then, in the struggle to achieve an independent Judiciary in our country.
It is not in my nature to accept felicitations of this kind, hence why I declined a ceremonial sitting in 1996 as well as in 2011. However, on this occasion, which I believe is safe to say, a momentous occasion, I could not refuse the kind invitation extended to me by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
I suppose it is both opportune and my duty to begin, therefore, by appreciating the diligent and unwavering efforts of the learned and able team of counsel, led by President’s Counsel Mr. Romesh De Silva, who selflessly appeared and stood on my behalf from the very inception, since the time of the impeachment years ago and still continues to do so, the members of the Bar Association, headed by its incumbent President Mr. Upul Jayasuriya, who fought fearlessly throughout with vigour, the lawyers who stood by me and continue to do so, on every occasion that I was made to defend myself in the Bribery Commission and in the Magistrates Court on baseless allegations and those who actively took part amidst great adversity throughout these 746 days, including the countless civil society activists, here and abroad, whom on numerous occasions, selflessly risked their lives for the benefit of the cause I stood for.
I am fortunate to have had such unwavering and continued support, which was my biggest strength throughout this entire period.
As the 43rd Chief Justice of the Republic of Sri Lanka, a wife, mother and a sister, it is with the deepest respect and admiration of my country and its people that I graciously accepted the resumption of my duties yesterday.
I have been bestowed with a breadth of opportunities by my country, a debt which in my 16 years of service within these hallowed walls of justice I have tried to repay. I believe in that period I have done my utmost to uphold the Rule of Law and the independence of the Judiciary.
My appointment to the Supreme Court in 1996 was not on my initiative as I had never made a request to be appointed to the Supreme Court as a judge. At that time I was spending my sabbatical year carrying out post-doctoral research in Constitutional Law attached to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, USA on a Fulbright Fellowship.
I was compelled to accept an invitation extended by the then-Government and I returned to my country, not only abandoning my research but also the plans made as a family and thereafter resigned from the position of Associate Professor of Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo where I had served for 16 years in different capacities, including as the Dean of the Faculty of Law as well as the Acting Vice Chancellor.
I could have served in the university as well as in the Judiciary until my 65th birthday, which would be in April 2023. However, at the time I was appointed as the Chief Justice in May 2011, I decided to have a five-year plan for the enhancement of the Judiciary and to retire in April 2016 at the age of 58 years.
Having that in mind I had prepared the program which included several projects that were to be completed by 2016.
Since January 2013, for over 746 days, our lives were in turmoil and peril. In that period, we as a family - my husband Pradeepa, son Shaveen, my younger sister Renuka and brother-in-law Kapila, not forgetting Heshanthi, encountered immeasurable harassment and suffering.
It is our togetherness and affection for one another throughout this period that I believe brought us through these tragic circumstances. For those who have devoted their lives to their profession, the compulsion to refrain from it, unjustifiably, is a sentence of imprisonment. When such compulsion is founded upon baseless allegations, such imprisonment is made even more rigorous and torturous.
In my over 16 years of service within the Judiciary, having delivered over 320 considered judgments, I have taken the utmost care to uphold the esteemed office that is of a Judge and Chief Justice.
As the bastion of justice and the last redress of the people of my country, I considered the position bestowed upon me as one that is sacred and pure. Witnessing the erosion of justice and the downfall of this hallowed institution for the past 746 days was as painful as the personal impact the unlawful impeachment had on me.
I am eternally grateful to my beloved mother and father, Wilson and Flora Bandaranayake, who passed away 25 years ago. My father, a Provincial Director of Education and my mother, an English Trained Teacher, were cornerstones in instilling in me the values and virtues of serving my country selflessly. No matter the hardships and obstacles they encountered, wherever they were posted, from time to time, they took it in stride, knowing that they would be making a positive impact in the lives of many in society.
I firmly believe that in order to instil trust and confidence about the Judiciary in our society, suitable and qualified people should adorn this bench. It is an independent Judiciary that would lead to a truly democratic country.
In retrospect, recalling the period of the impeachment, even amidst the baseless allegations and procedural impropriety that were taking place, it was a strength to witness the courage of a handful of Superior Court Judges who stood firm in the face of immense pressure and adversity. It is they who I believe should be recognised, appreciated and elevated.
I am proud of the steadfast and unwavering volition for service and upholding the oath of a judge portrayed by the Judges of the Minor Judiciary. It is indeed comforting to know that this institution has yet the opportunity to be adorned by such gems.
Moreover, having witnessed the courage and determined efforts of the young lawyers, who fought valiantly throughout this period, I believe that the profession has a bright future and is in safe hands.
May I take this opportunity, to wish success to my successor, Justice Sripavan, whom I firmly believe deserves this opportunity to become the legitimate 44th Chief Justice of the Republic.
For a period of over 16 years, so many people in the Supreme Court administration have assisted me in many ways. This includes the staff members of the Superior Courts complex as well. I would not have been able to carry out my duties if not for their support, extended to me so generously. I thank all of them and wish them a brighter future.
The battle which was fought for the past two years was not a personal one but one which was fought to uphold the Rule of Law and the integrity and independence of this institution. I may come and I may go; what matters is not the individual who holds this esteemed office but the continued existence of its independence and its ability to deliver justice without fear, bias or favour.
I am thankful to be able to bid farewell knowing the fact that generations from now when society looks back at this occasion today, it would be remembered as a day in which, time and nature brought about justice!