Sri Lankan parliament votes to impeach chief justice

Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:44am EST
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By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka faced a possible constitutional crisis on Friday after its parliament voted to impeach the chief justice, disregarding rulings from the Supreme Court that the process was illegal and threatened judicial independence.

The move has caused an outcry among opposition lawmakers, religious leaders and lawyers, prompted the United States and United Nations to voice concern for the integrity of justice in the South Asian state, and may alarm foreign investors.

Dominated by a coalition headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa's party, parliament voted to impeach Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first female chief justice, with 155 of the legislature's 225 members in favor.

During a two-day debate, lawmakers ignored rulings by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal against the impeachment, after a parliamentary panel found Bandaranayake guilty of financial irregularities and failure to declare assets.

Bandaranayake will be removed from the post after Rajapaksa declares the outcome of the impeachment in the parliament, the date of which has not been announced.

Lawyers Collective, a judiciary activist group, said in a statement that the appointment of a new chief justice would be unconstitutional as Bandaranayake's removal was against the law.

"This impeachment calls into question issues about the separation of powers in Sri Lanka and the impact of its absence on democratic institutions," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

Sri Lanka's Supreme Court ruled that parliament lacked the legal authority to investigate accusations of misconduct against the chief justice, while the Court of Appeal nullified the parliamentary panel findings.   Continued...

Lawyers wear black cloths across their faces to protest against the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke at the Supreme Court's premises in Colombo January 11, 2013. Sri Lankan lawyers boycotted courts on Thursday in protest at government attempts to fire the country's most senior judge, which they branded an attack on judicial independence. The United States, the United Nations and the Commonwealth have also raised concerns that the move to impeach Bandaranayake, on charges including financial irregularities and failure to declare assets, threatens the independence of Sri Lanka's courts. The Supreme Court has declared the impeachment attempt illegal. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte