Shirani Bandaranayake: Charges set out as impeachment begins

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The chief justice was only appointed - by the government - in 2011

Sri Lanka's parliament has begun formal impeachment proceedings against the chief justice after the Speaker accepted a motion against her.

Last week government lawmakers signed a motion against Shirani Bandaranayake, which was made public for the first time on Tuesday.

It sets out 14 charges, including failing to disclose her income and misusing her position.

Critics say the move is aimed at stifling the court's independence.

The impeachment proceedings come just a day after hundreds of lawyers protested against the move in the capital, Colombo.

The government has made assurances that due process will be followed. It denies pursuing a vendetta against her or trying to crush the judiciary.

The Speaker - who is also a brother of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa - will now form a parliamentary committee to investigate the charges against the chief justice.

Dispute over bill

The motion, backed by government MPs, says the chief justice has "plunged the entire Supreme Court and specially the office of the Chief Justice into disrepute".

The charges against Dr Bandaranayake include:

  • Failing to declare her assets fully
  • Failing to declare foreign currency
  • Failing to provide details of "more than 20 bank accounts"
  • Disregarding the constitution
  • Harassing a female magistrate
  • Being unsuitable to continue as chairperson of the Judicial Services Commission because of bribery charges against her husband

Opposition politicians say the government has moved against Dr Bandaranayake because it was indignant when she hampered the passage of the so-called Divineguma Bill, which centralises previously devolved development funds.

Critics of that bill say it signals the government's intention to prevent regional devolution from being implemented.

Devolution is wanted by the largest Tamil party and by influential powers including India and the US but nationalistic factions in the government have recently been calling for devolution provisions already in the constitution to be scrapped.

The government staged a street demonstration on Tuesday in favour of the bill and its enactment despite a Supreme Court ruling that it needs a two-thirds parliamentary majority to be passed, plus a referendum for one of its clauses.

One Tamil opposition politician, Mano Ganesan, said the impeachment motion against the judge showed that President Rajapaksa "will not share power".

On Monday another opposition politician told a protest rally that the government was "insulting" the chief justice because its MPs had submitted anonymous letters before parliament which contained smear allegations against her.

When Dr Bandaranayake was sworn in in May 2011, corruption allegations were already being levelled against her husband and the opposition declared her appointment to be unsuitable. The government and government media stoutly defended her.

Those positions have now been reversed.

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