President Mahinda Rajapaksa today appointed former attorney general Mohan Peiris to replace the impeached chief justice amid protests from lawyers and international criticism.
“He was sworn in at the president’s Temple Trees residence a short while ago,” presidential spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said.
The appointment of Peiris, who in recent years has served as senior legal adviser to the cabinet and remains a key defender of Sri Lanka’s record at UN rights meetings, follows the dismissal of Shirani Bandaranayake on Sunday.
Lawmakers voted last week to approve her impeachment. Bandaranayake has dismissed the trial against her as being politically motivated, while several of the country’s judges have questioned the constitutionality of the move.
Lawmakers found Bandaranayake guilty of tampering with a case involving a company from which her sister bought an apartment, of failing to declare dormant bank accounts and of staying in office while her husband faced a bribery charge.
Even before Peiris took office, a local think-tank, the Center for Policy Alternatives filed a complaint in the Supreme Court challenging his appointment.
Lawyers also protested the appointment by lighting candles outside the courts.
“Today we mark the end of independence of the judiciary but we will not give up the fight to protect the rule of law in this country,” said Sunil Watagala, a representative of the Lawyers Collective, an umbrella organization of independent lawyers.
Police stepped up security at the superior courts complex fearing a confrontation between supporters of Bandaranayake and loyalists of the new chief justice, police said.
Bandaranayake, who has vacated her official residence in Colombo, said she feared for the safety of herself and her husband and son.
“My life is in danger. The lives of all three of us are in danger,” she told reporters as she left her residence.
“I was not allowed to say my goodbye to the people I worked with for at the Supreme Court for over 16 years.”