Sri Lankan court summons speaker, lawmakers

AP News
Posted: Dec 21, 2012 6:43 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The Sri Lankan parliament speaker and 11 lawmakers were issued summonses Friday to appear before an appeals court in response to a complaint by the country's chief justice that a parliamentary committee unfairly convicted her of misconduct this month.

Three judges who gave the order also asked Parliament not to take a vote on the guilty verdict, a step that could result in her being removed from office, until it hears the case filed by Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. The court said such a move vote could bring about chaos if the court decides to quash the verdict.

The impeachment is seen as the culmination of a months-long dispute between the judiciary and the Parliament, which President Mahinda Rajapaksa controls. The parliamentary speaker, Chamal Rajapaksa, is a brother of the president, as is a Cabinet minister whose powers were curtailed by a ruling from Bandaranayake. The lawmakers did not immediately comment on the court order.

Lawyers for Bandaranayake on Wednesday asked the appeals court to quash the parliamentary committee report, which found her guilty of unexplained wealth and misuse of power and declared her unfit for office. She says the verdict was illegal, she was not given a fair hearing and the committee itself was unconstitutional.

Lawyers also asked the court to bar the parliament speaker from announcing a debate and a vote on the report.

The court is scheduled to hear the case Jan. 3. A vote is expected soon after Parliament reconvenes early next year. The vote against the chief justice is expected to be carried easily, and the result would go to the president, who can dismiss or retain her.

Rather than issuing an order barring a vote, the appeals court judges requested that Parliament "advise themselves not to act in derogation of the rights of the petitioner (Bandaranayake) until this application is heard and concluded, since any decision disregarding these proceedings to alter the status quo may lead to chaotic situation."

Bandaranayake's lawyers said in their application that she was not given enough time to prepare for her defense, and was not given lists of witnesses or an opportunity for her lawyers to cross-examine them. Her request for a public hearing, or for observers to view the proceedings, was turned down, and she was insulted personally, the lawyers said.

Bandaranayake, her lawyers and four opposition lawmakers who were members of the committee walked out midway during a committee hearing, saying they did not believe in its fairness. Seven ruling-party lawmakers met in their absence to deliver the verdict.

Rajapaksa appointed Bandaranayake as the country's first female chief justice last year, but she began to be heavily criticized by the government after she ordered that a proposed law giving vast powers to the economic development minister, Basil Rajapaksa, was illegal.