COLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has sacked Supreme Court Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, and reinstated the latter’s predecessor, Shirani Bandaranayake, on the grounds that Bandaranayake was removed through a flawed and illegal impeachment process.
Following this step taken late on Tuesday, Bandaranayake returned to her chamber on Wednesday to a rousing welcome by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).
Retires on Thursday
However, the re-instated Chief Justice will retire on Thursday. Senior most Supreme Court judge, K.Sripavan, will then become the Chief Justice. He is expected to be made permanent.
Explaining Bandaranayake’s extraordinary decision to retire just after a day in office, her attorney, K. Neelakandan, said: “ She wants to show that she is not after office. She wanted justice to be done to her, and since justice has been done, she is satisfied.”
Wrong Resolution Passed
The BASL has been arguing that Mohan Peiris was appointed Chief Justice when that post was technically “not vacant”. Parliament had not passed a proper resolution asking the President to sack Bandaranayake. What the House passed finally, was an older resolution seeking the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to probe charges of misconduct against her!
When the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, pointed out that parliament had not passed a resolution asking the President to sack the Chief Justice but had passed something else, the ruling party simply ignored it, being in a frightful hurry to get rid of the Chief Justice.
Since then, the BASL has been saying that the replacement of Bandaranyake by Peiris was not valid as the post had not been legally vacated.
Impeachment Process Illegal
The impeachment proceedings were also patently illegal. The then government of Mahinda Rajapaksa had disregarded an adverse ruling of the Court of Appeal on the PSC, and had ignored a note of caution sounded by the Supreme Court.
On November 1, 2012, 117 MPs of President Rajapaksa’s United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) submitted a petition to the Speaker seeking the appointment of a PSC to go into 14 charges of misconduct against Bandaranayake. An 11-member PSC was appointed. But in that, seven were ministers and only four were from the opposition.
Impeachment proceedings took place on November 23, December 4 and December 6, 2012. Bandaranayake refused to attend further sittings saying that she had not been given enough time to prepare her defense. The opposition also walked out saying that the proceedings were like an “inquisition”.
The PSC did not recognize the presumption of innocence and did not follow any recognized norms governing evidence and proof. The prosecutors and the judges were the same.
The Supreme Court advised the Speaker to stop the proceedings till the flaws in parliament’s Standing Order 78A governing impeachment of judges were rectified through a proper act of parliament. And the Court of Appeal quashed the proceedings of the PSC. Yet, on January 13, 2013, President Rajapaksa sacked Bandaranayake, touching off an international uproar.
Peiris’ Role in Coup Bid
The BASL’s case against Chief Justice Mohan Peiris was strengthened when it became known that he was at the official residence of President Rajapaksa during the night of January 8 when, allegedly, a plot to stage a military coup to thwart Sirisena’s victory in the Presidential election was being hatched.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had filed a complaint to the CID about the alleged plot, and the CID questioned Peiris.
Bid for Honorable Exit
Nevertheless, Peiris tried to make an “honorable exist” by telling Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he would quit if he was made Ambassador to the UK or Italy. Wickremesinghe offered him Brazil, but Peiris refused. Wickremesinghe received flak for trying to smuggle out Peiris when there is a criminal case against him. This left Wickremesinghe no option but to ask President Sirisena to sack Peiris.
However, the never-day-die Peiris on Wednesday filed a complaint with the police alleging that National Unity Front (NUF) leader Azath Sally had threatened him after forcibly entering his residence on Tuesday night. Police spokesman Ajith Rohana said that the matter is being investigated.