Sri Lanka's chief justice appeals parliament report

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 19, 2012 2:38 PM

By Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's chief justice appealed on Wednesday against a report by a parliamentary panel which said she was guilty of financial irregularities and failing to declare her assets, a case which has raised tensions between the government and the judiciary.

The United States, the United Nations and Commonwealth have raised concerns about the process which could see parliament vote next month to impeach Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first woman head of the Supreme Court.

They have also called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Bandaranayake submitted a 26-page application to the appeal court in which she said the parliamentary committee had not allowed her enough time to respond to the charges, had failed to set out its procedures and allow her to cross-examine witnesses.

She also requested an interim order to stop parliament taking any steps against her until her appeal had been decided.

Gomin Dayasiri , an activist and senior lawyer, said Bandaranayake was "challenging the concept of the supremacy of parliament".

"It'll certainly be a major clash," he told Reuters.

A close confidante of Rajapaksa said Bandaranayake was desperate to prevent an impeachment.

"No court can challenge parliament's supremacy. I think she will be out after the impeachment process," he told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The accusations against Bandaranayake arose after she ruled against a bill proposing an 80-billion rupee ($614 million) development budget which she said had to be approved by nine provincial councils.

The ruling angered some of Rajapaksa's backers, who accused the judiciary of overstepping its authority. Bandaranayake's supporters complained of political interference.

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The president, who has a more than two-thirds majority in the 225-member legislature, needs just a simple majority to remove her from her post.

Parliament speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, the president's brother appointed the parliamentary panel with seven of its 11 members from the ruling party to investigate 14 charges against Bandaranayake. She was found guilty on three of the first five charges.

The four opposition members on the panel quit saying it was unfair. Bandaranayake walked out of the committee hearings saying she had lost faith in the proceedings. (Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Jon Hemming)