Bar boycotts Sri Lanka’s new chief justice

Agence France-Presse
Sri Lanka's top lawyers boycotted a ceremony to welcome the new chief justice as international jurists said his predecessor's sacking had brought the country close to authoritarian rule.

APPOINTED. President Mahinda Rajapakse (left) shakes hands with Mohan Peiris after appointing him chief justice on January 15. Photo from AFP

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The country’s top lawyers boycotted on Wednesday, January 23, a ceremony to welcome the new chief justice as international jurists said his predecessor’s sacking had brought the country close to authoritarian rule.

The 11,000-strong Bar Association of Sri Lanka kept away from the Supreme Court ceremony in Colombo for Mohan Peiris who was appointed in place of Shirani Bandaranayake who has been impeached.

“The ceremonial sitting that was held in breach of traditions that has been followed for well over 200 years was boycotted by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka,” it said in a statement.

Lawyers usually take a leading role in welcoming a new chief justice to the bench, but the traditional welcome speech from the Bar Association was absent on Wednesday.

Bandaranayake was formally dismissed by President Mahinda Rajapakse on January 13 two days after parliament voted to impeach her, despite two successive court rulings that the process was illegal as well as a chorus of international criticism.

In an open letter to Rajapakse on Wednesday, the International Commission of Jurists said Bandaranayake’s removal was “unconstitutional and in contravention of international standards on judicial independence” as it called for her reinstatement.

“The Rajapakse government has brought Sri Lanka within steps of authoritarian rule, dismantling the system of checks and balances and eviscerating judicial independence,” said Wilder Tayler, the organisation’s secretary general.

Bandaranayake has already been replaced by former attorney general Mohan Peiris who had been serving the government’s chief legal adviser.

The impeachment process was launched in November after court decisions went against the regime of Rajapakse, who has tightened his hold on power since crushing Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009 to end a decades-long ethnic war.

Lawmakers found her guilty of tampering with a case involving a company from which her sister bought an apartment, of failing to declare dormant bank accounts, and of staying in office while her husband faced a bribery charge.

She has said the charges were politically motivated and that she was denied a fair trial. –

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