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Justice Besieged

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Sri Lanka is now experiencing the unprecedented situation where the country’s sitting Chief Justice is being questioned by the CID over his involvement in an alleged coup even as the government is negotiating a deal where he gets a dipomatic posting in return for stepping down. .

One would imagine that the interrogation of the Chief Justice could be followed by the Attorney General instituting legal proceedings against the CJ, a process that would have to take place in the latter’s own house with the accused, in effect, sitting in judgment!
The country is also experiencing a bizarre situation where the CJ has appointed a spokesperson who happens to be a lawyer who is practicing in Ratnapura. The Nation reliably learns that the person who claims to be the Media Spokesman of the Chief Justice is also a Navy deserter. ‘Conflict of interest?’ is a question that is so glaring here that it is astounding that the CJ appears to have missed it, never mind the issue of good judgment in recruiting a deserter.

BASL President Upul Jayasuriya claims that in a meeting with the CJ the latter had ‘agreed to step down if he’s compensated with a diplomatic post’.   

If this is true then the office of the Chief Justice has become something that can be bought and sold, up for purchase, amenable to barter etc.   The situation does not paint Jayasuriya in positive light either, one observes, because Jayasuriya, a front-line objector to the eviction of Bandaranayake on grounds of improper procedure has no business to cut deals with the CJ.  There’s no evidence that he was offering the CJ a bribe but he was most certainly requesting him to step-down.  Where he found this ‘mechanism’ in the Latimer Principle one just cannot fathom!  Not too long ago the BASL, the opposition and the ‘international community’ were up in arms when Mahinda Rajapaksa moved to oust the then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.  The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) lent its vociferous and self-righteous voice to these objections and went as far as desecrating the supposedly sacred high chamber of justice in the country by turning it into a picketing ground.

Now, in post-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka some of these objectors are calling for the removal of the ‘Rajapaksa-appointee,’ the incumbent Chief Justice, Mohan Peiris.  One would have thought that those who howled over ‘improper procedure’ in the ousting of Bandaranayake would use ‘proper’ mechanisms for this, for example drawing from the Latimer Principles which were bandied about during Maithripala Sirisena’s presidential campaign.  What we are hearing of, though, are all kinds of behind-the-scenes moves which include negotiations over ‘give and take’, none of which cover either the CJ or the negotiators with glory.  Jayasuriya, or the BASL for that matter, is but a pawn here.  He could not have been acting on his own initiative.  It is the movers and shakers of the new Government that talked of a coup attempt and dragged in Peiris’ name as a suspected accessory after the fact.  They, not Jayasuriya, have to make good on the good-governance promise. They have to and can rehearse the Latimer Principles in any move that seeks to oust the CJ.

 Impeach the man if impeachment is warranted, we say.  Stop this childish hora-police (cops and robbers) game.  Right now you people are tripping over good governance rhetoric and its bad, bad precedence that’s oozing out of your preferred-procedural knees.  If that which came before was ugly, rest assured that you people are giving your predecessors a good run for their money in the ugliness department for this amounts to just one thing: digging a grave to bury good governance.

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