Alleged presidential interference in judiciary:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Declaring that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) steadfastly protected the independence of the judiciary, its President Kaushalya Navaratne yesterday (22) said that senior members would be consulted to decide what he called,the best possible course of action.
Navaratne said so when The Island sought his response to the simmering controversy over President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s alleged interference in judicial matters.
Referring to the Opposition criticism of President Wickremesinghe’s controversial comments at the National Law Conference 23/24, held at the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya, on 03 June, and at the 29th AGM of the Coconut Growers Association, at the Sri Lanka Foundation, on 04 August, The Island, a few days ago, asked Navaratne when the BASL would issue a statement in this regard.
Navaratne said that the BASL always stood for the protection of the independence of the Judiciary. “Irrespective of the person/persons, or the posts they held, it is our position that no one should directly, or indirectly, do or say anything which would undermine the independence of the judiciary or rule of law. The independence of the Judiciary is a primary requisite of a democratic governance,” the BASL chief said.
Navaratne explained having discussed the issues at hand, the executive committee of BASL decided to seek the opinion of senior members as the issue is recurrent. Once a consensus is reached, the BASL would decide on the best possible course of action.
Asked for the BASL’s stand on Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s 09 August declaration that the courts were not empowered to issue orders or judgments of any nature related to a motion already passed by the Parliament, Navaratne said the executive committee decided to consult a few senior lawyers to obtain an opinion.
Navaratne said that once the opinions were available, the BASL would decide on future action.
The Speaker gave the controversial ruling after Tourism and Lands Minister Harin Fernando (SJB) raised a privilege issue on petitions filed against the resolution on domestic debt restructuring that had been approved by the House.
Prof. G. L. Peiris, MP, on behalf of the rebel SLPP group, President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris and three lawyers representing the JVP-led Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Sunil Watagala, Upul Kumarapperuma and J.M. Wijebandara, condemned President Wickremesinghe’s actions.
Executive Director of the polls monitoring body PAFFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi emphasized that the government caused an unprecedented legal crisis by ignoring a specific directive issued by the Supreme Court on 03 March, 2023. That interim order issued to Secretary of Finance Ministry Mahinda Siriwardena and Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam was meant to pave the way for Local Government polls. The SC prevented them from withholding of the funds allocated for the 2023 local government elections, through the budget passed by the Parliament.
In addition, the apex court issued another interim order preventing the appropriation of money allocated to the government printing press for the printing of ballot papers. The civil society activist said that the powers that be continued to disregard that directive on the basis the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa administration lacked the wherewithal to conduct Local Government polls.
The order was given by the three-member Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices Preethi Padman Surasena, Janak de Silva and Priyantha Fernando, allowing the consideration of a fundamental rights petition filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara.