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Parliament overrules court on chief justice

Standoff and street protests escalate

Parliament overrules court on chief justice
Protesters took to the streets after the government overruled the Court of Appeals reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

January 8, 2013

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A dispute between the government and the judiciary escalated yesterday when the government quashed a Court of Appeals decision to uphold an impeachment appeal by Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, prompting a further round of street protests.

In a dispute which has seen parliament accused of doing the bidding of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family, the appeals court ruled that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) had no legal authority to impeach Sri Lanka’s first female chief justice.

Parliament has said it will go ahead and debate the issue over two days starting on Thursday ahead of a vote on Friday.

JC Weliamana, a constitutional lawyer and former executive director of Sri Lanka’s Transparency International office, said that in theory the PSC was moving into unlawful and dangerous territory.

“If the parliamentarians are going to debate on the select committee ignoring the court decision that would amount to contempt of court and court can take action against them,” he said.

President Rajapaksa yesterday appointed a four-member independent commission to investigate the impeachment motion.

It remains unclear whether or not Sri Lanka’s embattled judiciary will take further measures against the PSC but such a move appeared to enjoy widespread support as more than 1,000 demonstrators marched in the capital yesterday calling for the impeachment process to end.

“It is a serious threat against the judiciary and democracy in the country,” said opposition lawmaker Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, who joined the march. “The removal of the chief justice would be a violation of the constitution … no-one should follow civil laws if these laws have been broken by leaders of the country.”

Government critics say Bandaranayake is being targeted after shooting down a bill that would have given extraordinary powers to the president’s brother, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

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