Sri Lankan leader ratifies chief judge's dismissal

AP News
Posted: Jan 13, 2013 7:32 PM
Sri Lankan leader ratifies chief judge's dismissal

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's president has formally dismissed the country's chief justice from office after Parliament impeached her in a process that has been widely criticized as an unfair, illegal attempt to ensure a servile judiciary.

Jurists and activists in Sri Lanka say any attempt to appoint a new chief justice could precipitate a constitutional crisis. The signing of the dismissal decree Sunday, announced on the government's website, was the final step to dismiss Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.

A parliamentary committee last month found Bandaranayake guilty of amassing unexplained wealth and misuse of power. Bandaranayake had denied any wrongdoing and walked out of the proceeding, saying she was not given a fair hearing.

An appeals court annulled the guilty verdict and forbade any further action by Parliament after the Supreme Court ruled that the committee had no legal power to investigate the allegations.

Parliament's defiance of the court rulings when it voted to approve the guilty verdict Friday is seen by lawyers and activists as a breach of the constitution that threatens to plunge the courts into crisis. Many senior lawyers have asked Supreme Court judges not to sit with a new chief justice saying the appointment would be illegal.

Critics of President Mahinda Rajapaksa see the impeachment as a step toward removing one of the last obstacles to absolute power.

Riding a wave of popular support after ending Sri Lanka's bloody 25-year civil war in 2009, Rajapaksa has pushed through laws ending term limits for the presidency and abolishing independent commissions that select top judiciary, police and public service personnel. He now has the power to appoint many of the country's officials.

Bandaranayake was long viewed as pro-government but faced the allegations after she ruled against a law promoted by a member of Rajapaksa's family.

The government is largely controlled by the Rajapaksas, including the president's older brother Chamal Rajapaksa, the speaker of Parliament. Two more brothers run the ministries of defense and economic development. One of the president's sons is a member of Parliament.