Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Update on Sri Lanka Judiciary-Executive clash

Rohit's previous post on this issue in early December drew attention to the brewing crisis around the impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake in Sri Lanka.  Since then, some other developments have occurred on this front, and the purpose of this short post is to highlight them.

On December 15, The Bar Association of Sri Lanka passed a resolution in support of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and asserted that it would not cooperate if a new person was appointed in her stead as Chief Justice by President Rajapakse. (Details here in a report in the Hindu).  On December 19, the Chief Justice moved the Court of Appeal asking for the impeachment proceedings against her to be quashed.  Details of her arguments are available in this story in the Washington Post.

On December 21, in a significant move, the Court of Appeal issued notice to the Speaker of the Parliament, and the members of the Parliamentary Select Committee which conducted the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice, and asked them to appear before the Court on January 3, 2013.  It also directed that no further action be taken against the Chief Justice until the court proceedings were completed.

In his analysis that appeared in the Hindu on Dec 22, RK Radhakrishnan argues that this has set the stage for an unprecedented Executive-Judiciary clash in Sri Lanka.  The Speaker of the House of Parliament has reportedly refused to appear before the Court.  For now, however, all players seem to be adopting a low key role.  As the next date of hearing nears, things are sure to heat up.

As Rohit notes in his post, there are precedents from across South Asia for such clashes.  This situation in Sri Lanka might well be decided behind closed doors, but if it continues to play out in the public sphere, it might have significant implications for the contemporary Sri Lankan polity.  What is also striking is that the Sri Lankan legal profession and judiciary has been drawn into adopting a fairly aggressive role against the political executive, at a time when it is particularly powerful.  Given the relatively quiescent role played by these legal actors in Sri Lanka historically (especially when contrasted against their counterparts in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), this may well turn out to be a landmark event in the history of the Sri Lankan 'legal complex.'

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