Sri Lanka begins impeachment of chief justice

November 24, 2012 - 4:27:18 am

Sri Lanka’s Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake smiles as she leaves the parliamentary complex in Colombo yesterday, ahead of impeachment proceedings.

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s parliament yesterday began an impeachment hearing against the country’s chief justice, defying a Supreme Court request for a suspension of proceedings, sources told the reporters.

Shirani Bandaranayake, the first woman to be Sri Lanka’s top judge, went before a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for the first time to answer allegations of financial and official misconduct, sources said.

After nearly three hours of closed-door talks, the PSC scheduled the next hearing for December 4 and turned down her request for more time to prepare a full defence, a source said asking not to be named.

The Supreme Court earlier asked the parliament to consider suspending the impeachment move pending hearings into nine cases challenging the legality of the moves to sack Bandaranayake.

“All government MPs in the PSC voted to deny the Supreme Court request to suspend the proceedings,” a opposition legislator said, asking for anonymity because he was not authorised to talk.

Rights groups have said the impeachment is the latest sign of efforts by President Mahinda Rajapakse to tighten his grip on power after crushing the Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in 2009 at the end of a decades-long war.

The Supreme Court irked Rajapakse last month with a decision that effectively scuppered a bill giving more powers to the economic development minister, who is the president’s younger brother Basil.

Bandaranayake, whose husband was also charged recently with corruption while holding a political appointment as the head of a state-owned bank, has denied the financial wrongdoing alleged in the impeachment.

She declined to comment as she arrived at parliament to go before the PSC which has a total of 11 members -- seven from the government side and four from the opposition. She was accompanied by six lawyers.

The ruling party has more than the required simple majority in the 225-member assembly to impeach Bandaranayake who would otherwise have another 11 years as Chief Justice.

The move to sack her was initiated by the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance which also dominates the PSC which is investigating her.

The United States has joined other international voices in expressing concern over the impeachment. Sri Lankan lawyers have united in urging the authorities to ensure “due process” in any action against the judge.