Former Attorney General Mohan Peiris was sworn in on Tuesday as Sri Lanka’s 44th Chief Justice amidst a raging controversy over the sacking of the previous Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last Sunday.
Bandaranayake’s dismissal, through an allegedly flawed process, had set a good section of Lanka’s judges and lawyers against the government and Parliament and invited widespread domestic and international criticism of the Rajapaksa regime. Mohan Peiris had entered the bar in 1975 and joined the Attorney General’s department as a State Counsel in 1981. He had been in the AG’s department right through his career, rising to be the Attorney General. After retirement, he was functioning as Rajapaksa’s Advisor on legal affairs.
Peiris’ appointment as CJ had taken place amidst objections. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the SC on Tuesday praying for the annulment of Peiris’ appointment on the grounds that there was “no valid vacancy”. The CPA said that the process by which former CJ Bandaranayake was dismissed was constitutionally flawed, as ruled by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. Parliament and Executive had ignored the apex court’s ruling that the Standing Orders of Parliament under which the PSC as appointed to impeach Bandaranayake, were not “law” in proper sense of the word, and, therefore, the impeachment procedure had been unconstitutional. The CPA further prayed that Peiris be barred from occupying CJ post till Bandaranayake’s conduct was probed under a valid law.