Sri Lanka: Impeachment against a Judicial Officer should be beyond Political Bargaining

The impeachment motion against the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka is now before the Parliament with the signatures of a hundred members of Parliament in support.  Meanwhile a proposal by President Chandrika Kumaratunga who has called for the withdrawal of the impeachment motion against the Chief Justice is among the latest proposals to defuse the current political conflict between President Kumaratunga and the government.  This proposal has been published in the newspapers.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has no interest in the political conflict between the two parties.  However, a call by the President to drop an impeachment motion against a judicial officer cannot merely be a political issue.  Such an action sadly undermines the process of disciplinary control of senior judicial officers, bringing it down to an issue of political compromise.  Whether the allegations made against the Chief Justice are true or not is for the Parliament to vote upon after a proper judicial inquiry as per the constitutional process.

That an impeachment motion against a Chief Justice has become a bargaining point in resolving a political conflict between two major political parties will itself have a demoralizing effect on anyone who still believes that a tradition of independence of judiciary is a part of the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka.  In that process the matter relating to the judiciary should not only be separated from politics but it must be seen to be separated from politics. For factional politics to determine whether an impeachment motion should go through or not is a serious affront to the citizens who believe in the democratic process.

When an allegation of misconduct is made against the highest judicial officers it is the duty of the parliament to deal with the matter as speedily as possible and then dispose of the matter as objectively as possible.  It is unfair to charge anyone if the charges cannot be proved and it is also the right of the parties charged to defend themselves and to prove their innocence.  However, this is a matter that needs to be resolved on the basis of the highest principles, norms and standards.  Parliament owes it to the people to resolve this matter as early as possible.  The concerns on this matter have been expressed for a long time by international agencies such as the International Bar Association and also the U.N. Rapporteur on the Independence of the Judges and Lawyers.

If the impeachment motion is dropped purely as a matter of political compromise the people will have no occasion to know the truth or falsehood of the charges.  Such a situation would greatly undermine the people’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.  Already, a public survey has demonstrated the lowering of the people’s confidence in the judicial system. If the democratic process is to be revived from the very low depths to which it has sunk in the recent decades politicians of all political parties must keep their hands off the judiciary. The integrity of the judiciary is such a fundamental foundation of society that it can be ignored only at the risk of great peril.  The Asian Human Rights Commission urges everyone to avoid such a disastrous situation.  It is above all, the duty of the public to intervene to avoid political interference into the matters affecting the judiciary.  When the public fails to do their duty to jealously safeguard the judiciary they invite serious consequences upon themselves.

Sri Lanka is very much a traumatized nation. One of the most important elements of trauma is distrust together with disconnection. Among other things, the collapse of judicial institutions has caused deep distrust in everyone, including judges and lawyers. The basic values on which the justice system should be rooted is now lost. This lack of trust and sense of disconnection is far more serious a social and personal problem than is realized. A belief in the judiciary is one of the most important foundations of trust and sense of connection within society. The split caused by the loss of such trust and sense of connection gives rise to deep conflicts within society and within the psyche of individual members. Every act or gesture that people see where matters relating to the judiciary become a plaything in the hands of unscrupulous persons, causes lasting damage and generates a negative sprit. People have a right not be treated and wounded in this fashion.

– Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC, Hong Kong

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-49-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,