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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s courts ground to a halt yesterday as lawyers went on strike to protest against a move by lawmakers to impeach the chief justice in a bitter clash over the independence of the judiciary.
The Lawyers’ Collective, representing all attorneys, have demanded that the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance withdraw its recommendation that judge Shirani Bandaranayake be impeached for professional misconduct.
The one-day strike went ahead despite President Mahinda Rajapakse announcing on Tuesday night that he was willing to appoint an “independent panel” to review the parliamentary report by UPFA lawmakers.
“The president’s statement... is an admission that it was an unlawful process,” the lawyers’ union said in a statement.
In a sign of possible compromise, Rajapakse said he was reluctant to proceed with the impeachment of Bandaranayake, the country’s first woman chief justice, but he gave no further details.
The impeachment has raised international concerns that Rajapakse is trying to control the judiciary after crushing Tamil rebels in 2009 and consolidating his hold on power.
Action against the chief justice came after she scuttled several bills, including one that would have given more powers to Rajapakse’s youngest brother Basil, the economic development minister.
The legality of the impeachment process is also being challenged before the Supreme Court and a verdict is expected tomorrow.
The government had expected Bandaranayake to resign without putting up resistance, but she has vowed to fight on and defend her innocence.
The charges on which she was found guilty by lawmakers include failing to declare nine bank accounts and interfering in a case involving a company from which her sister had bought an apartment.
Rajapakse’s party has enough support to dismiss Bandaranayake through a vote when parliament holds its next session on Jan 8.