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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s president completed the controversial impeachment of the chief justice by choosing a successor yesterday, his spokesman said, as lawyers vowed to keep up a battle for judicial independence.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa nominated a new chief justice who is expected to be confirmed by a parliamentary panel today, his spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said. Rajapakse selected the successor to Shirani Bandaranayake, the first woman chief justice, after she was removed by him on Sunday following an impeachment declared illegal and unconstitutional by the highest courts in the country.
“The president sent his nominee to the parliamentary committee today,” Samaranayake said. He declined to name the new chief justice, but added: “I can say that it is most likely to be Mohan Peiris.”
Peiris retired two years ago as the country’s attorney general, but has since been the senior legal adviser to the cabinet of ministers in addition to being a key defender of Sri Lanka’s record at UN human rights sessions.
The announcement came hours after the Lawyers’ Collective, which includes most of Sri Lanka’s 11,000 attorneys, said they would contest through the courts any appointment to replace Bandaranayake after her “purported impeachment”.
“We will use all legal avenues to challenge this purported impeachment,” Lawyers’ Collective spokesman J C Weliamuna told reporters in Colombo.
Bandaranayake’s lawyers said she had no immediate comment. “The government wanted her out because she remained independent and did not do their bidding,” Weliamuna said. “This is not a matter that affects only her and the legal fraternity but the democratic rights of all citizens.”
Rajapakse’s office in a statement insisted he had acted in line with the constitution. “There may be imperfections with our constitution,” the statement quoted Rajapakse as saying. “No country has a constitution that is perfect, but we have to follow it.”
Rajapakse brushed aside international calls for restraint and sacked Bandaranayake who would have had another 11 years in office.
The main opposition United National Party has rejected the sacking while the Commonwealth, the United States, Britain and Canada have expressed concern over the impeachment as a blow to the rule of law and good governance. 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. AFP