SRI LANKA: Two senior judges quit the Judicial Service Commission as a matter of conscience

The Asian Human Rights Commission has today learnt that two of the three members of the Judicial Service Commission of Sri Lanka have resigned their posts as continuing to hold them would be incompatible with their consciences. The two are senior Supreme Court judges Shiranee Bandaranayaka and T B Veerasuriya. The third remaining member and chairperson is none other than the Chief Justice, S N de Silva.

The Judicial Service Commission is a constitutional body empowered to transfer judges of the High Court and appoint, promote, transfer, exercise disciplinary control over and dismiss judicial officers and scheduled public officers. Its powers as stipulated by the Constitution of Sri Lanka include that it may make 

“Rules regarding training of judges of the High Court, the schemes for recruitment and training, appointment, promotion and public officers; provision for such matters as are necessary or expedient for the exercise, performance and discharge of the powers, duties and functions of the Commission.

“The Chairman of the Commission or any Judge of the Supreme Court or judge of the Court of Appeal as the case may be, authorised by the Commission shall have power and authority to inspect any Court of First Instance, or the records, Registers and other documents maintained in such Court or hold such inquiry as may be necessary.

“The Commission may by Order published in the Gazette delegate to the Secretary to the Commission the power to make transfers in respect of scheduled public officers, other than transfers involving increase of salary, or to make acting appointments in such cases and subject to such limitations as may be specified in the Order.”

As these two judges have resigned it is now impossible for the Commission to function, because at least two members must be present to make decisions. According to the 17th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, new persons can be appointed to the Commission only after recommendation by the Constitutional Council. However, the Constitutional Council stopped functioning in March 2005 when the terms of its former members expired, as no new members have since been appointed. 

As the Judicial Service Commission is among the most senior bodies in the country, the fact that it too can now no longer operate is also a matter of the highest public interest. The public has a right to know the reasons that these two senior judges resigned simultaneously. What are the issues have challenged their consciences and forced such a drastic step? These must surely be matters that will also challenge the conscience of the nation. There have in recent times been reports of judicial officers upset with the handling of certain affairs and possible damage to their profession. But this is by far the most direct evidence to date that something is seriously wrong in Sri Lanka’s judiciary. The public has a right to be informed of the full circumstances of these resignations and the consequences that will follow. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-018-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Administration of justice, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Prosecution system,