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Friday July 12th, 2024

Comments by Sri Lanka President, Justice Minister, intimidates judiciary: Lawyers collective

ECONOMYNEXT – A recent statement by President Ranil Wickremesinghe over a Supreme Court decision against a planned gender equality law and comments by Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakse also in parliament amounts to intimidation of the judiciary, a lawyer’s grouping has said.

“The President, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education are representatives of the entire Executive,” Sri Lanka’s Lawyers Collective said in a statement.

“The President also exercises a critically important Constitutional power and responsibility in appointing judges to our highest judicial forum- the Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice controls resources to the judiciary.”

“Such high executive office making insidious sweeping remarks about the judiciary using parliamentary privilege is a clear abuse of their power. ”

The President’s comments came after a Supreme Court decision on a law that attempts to end discrimination on the basis of gender.

“Constructive critique, fair comment and difference of opinions are all valid forms of the right to freedom of expression,” the statement said.

“Disagreement cannot cross into threat or intimidation,” the statement said.

“Restraint must also be exercised in any comments or actions made about the judiciary even in Parliament in direct recognition of the fact that judges do not have a right of reply and cannot defend themselves.

“The Collective believes such statements, immediately prior to an election, to be politically expedient and aimed to cause uncertainty and loss of confidence in the People in the judiciary and democratic processes.”

The statement said Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakse’s allegations against judges also in parliament was also concerning as an order had been given against him.

“The Minister levelled serious allegations naming specific judges and lawyers,” the statement said.

“Any such allegation of corruption involving judicial officers must be taken extremely seriously however these public statements are a misuse of Parliamentary privilege.

“Every allegation must be dealt with due process and with a view to strengthening institutions.

“It is disappointing and extremely concerning that the Minister, a senior member of the legal profession, a President’s Counsel, levels allegations against the District Court judge who issued a stay order against the Minister regarding an issue on the office bearers of the SLFP.”

The full statement is reproduced below:

Lawyers’ Collective Statement – 22nd June 2024

Executive Must Cease Intimidating and Undermining the Independence of the Judiciary

On 18th June 2024 President Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking in Parliament, criticizing the recent Supreme Court determination on the Gender Equality Bill referred to the court as having engaged in ‘judicial cannibalism’.

The President went on to say that Parliament ‘could not agree with the Supreme Court ruling’ and that he while he doesn’t propose to summon judges before parliament, he proposes the appointment a Parliamentary Select Committee to review the determination.

Previously, the President also demanded the appointment of a parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the workings of the Constitutional Council when it did not approve his nominee to the Supreme Court.

On 19th June 2024, the Minister of Justice, Wijedasa Rajapakse, in Parliament, stated that the Supreme Court Orders in effect suspend parts of the Constitution and drew comparison between the orders of the Supreme Court and Adolf Hitler suspending the civil rights prior to the outbreak of World War II. These statements are aimed at instilling fear and confusion in the minds of citizens.

The Minister levelled serious allegations naming specific judges and lawyers. Any such allegation of corruption involving judicial officers must be taken extremely seriously however these public statements are a misuse of Parliamentary privilege.

Allegations should be confined to formal complaints before the proper fora.

Every allegation must be dealt with due process and with a view to strengthening institutions. It is disappointing and extremely concerning that the Minister, a senior member of the legal profession, a President’s Counsel, levels allegations against the District Court judge who issued a stay order against the Minister regarding an issue on the office bearers of the SLFP.

Further the Minister of Education, Susil Premjayantha and Dayasiri Jayasekare, Member of Parliament also made comments on the cases for which they have certain interests.

The above remarks are an assault upon the independence of the judiciary, a cornerstone of our Constitution.

The President, Minister of Justice, Minister of Education are representatives of the entire Executive. The President also exercises a critically important Constitutional power and responsibility in appointing judges to our highest judicial forum- the Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice controls resources to the judiciary.

Such high executive office making insidious sweeping remarks about the judiciary using parliamentary privilege is a clear abuse of their power.

It sends strong signals to judicial officials that certain judicial decisions will not be tolerated by this executive. It implies complicity with the executive may receive career advancement and support.

By using the nationally televised platform afforded to speeches in Parliament, the President and Minister of Justice to make disparaging remarks on the judiciary demeans this important public institution central to a functioning democracy. It undermines the public confidence in the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Foundational concepts of the rule of law, separation of powers and balance of powers are founded on maintaining public confidence. Public confidence among the sovereign People legitimizes the entire State. The People support and legitimize State powers of governance when they have confidence in the judiciary.

As such, these statements directly threaten the political stability of the country.

Constructive critique, fair comment and difference of opinions are all valid forms of the right to freedom of expression. However, given the Executive’s equal role in ensuring the balance of power among organs of government, and protecting the sovereignty of the People as guaranteed by the Constitution.

It is incumbent on the Executive in a democracy to refrain from eroding the powers and responsibilities of the other key institutions and express disagreement due care.

Disagreement cannot cross into threat or intimidation. Restraint must also be exercised in any comments or actions made about the judiciary even in Parliament in direct recognition of the fact that judges do not have a right of reply and cannot defend themselves.

The Lawyers’ Collective views this attack on the judiciary, which in the context of mounting litigation before courts, is the last recourse and refuge against abuse of State powers.

The Collective has observed increased participation in democracy, whereby citizens have challenged decisions on appointments to high posts, corrupt decisions, undemocratic and repressive legislation initiated by the executive and Executive measures mounting hardships on the lives of the People.

We have also seen repressive measures by the Executive against public protests and dissent. In this context, and the mounting evidence of executive interference with the judiciary, these statements are not isolated excesses, but now form a clear pattern of intimidation by politicians holding executive power.

It is a pattern of authoritarian conduct by a President who serves without a direct mandate from the people and a Minister in the Cabinet of such a President.

The Lawyers’ Collective condemns the above statements made by the President, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Education and Dayasiri Jayasekare MP.

We are of the view that any allegation against the judiciary must be made in the form of a formal complaint before the appropriate forum and not by way of a statement in the Parliament under the cover of Parliamentary privilege.

The Collective believes such statements, immediately prior to an election, to be politically expedient and aimed to cause uncertainty and loss of confidence in the People in the judiciary and democratic processes. The Collective requests the public to stand up in protection of the independence of the Judiciary at this time and always.

Yours faithfully,

On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective
Mr. Upul Jayasuriya, President’s Counsel
Mr. M.M. Zuhair, President’s Counsel
Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Anura B. Meddegoda, President’s Counsel
Mr. Saliya Pieris, President’s Counsel
Professor Deepika Udagama
Professor Camena Gunaratne
Mr. S.T. Jayanaga, President’s Counsel
Mr. Upul Kumarapperuma, President’s Counsel
Rev. Fr. Noel Dias, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Jagath Kularatne, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Lakshan Dias, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Srinath Perera, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. K.W. Janaranjana, Attorney-at-Law
Ms. Ermiza Tegal, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Darshana Kuruppu, Attorney-at-Law
Mr. Sandamal Rajapakse, Attorney-at-Law

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Sri Lanka appoints new Attorney General

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed K A Parinda Ranasinghe PC as Attorney General.

He was appointed in terms of Article 61E (b) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the president’s media division said.

The new AG received the appointment from President Wickremesinghe at the Presidential Secretariat on Friday.

He fills the post after the retirement of former Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam. (Colombo/Jul12/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes stronger at 301.70/302.00 to US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed stronger at 301.70/302.00 to the US dollar on Friday, from 302.80/303.00 to the US dollar on Thursday, dealers said, while bond yields were up.

A bond maturing on 15.12.2026 closed at 10.90/11.00 percent, up from 10.85/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.12.2027 closed at 11.75/80 percent, up from 11.80/88 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.05.2028 closed at 11.90/12.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2029 closed at 12.10/30 percent, up from 12.15/25 percent. (Colombo/Jul12/2024)

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Sri Lanka stocks close up, muted activity

ECONOMYNEXT – The Colombo Stock Exchange closed up on Friday, data on its site showed.

The broader All Share Index closed up 0.35 percent, or 41.71 points, at 11,843; while the more liquid S&P SL20 Index closed up 0.56 percent, or 19.20 points, at 3,454.

Turnover was low at 653 million.

“The market picked up a bit from yesterday but it’s still below the psychological 12,000 mark,” Softlogic Stockbrokers said.

“Local retail participation drove the market predominantly.”

John Keells Holdings Plc brought in Rs109mn to the turnover, and the share closed flat at 194.50.

Melstacorp Plc contributed in Rs104mn to the turnover, and the share closed flat at 85.00.

Sentiment around the banking counters was mostly negative. Sampath Bank Plc closed down at 77.00, closed flat at 101.25, and Hatton National Bank Plc closed flat at 195.25.

The top contributors to the ASPI were Commercial Bank of Ceylon Plc (up at 103.50), Bukit Darah Plc (up at 397.00), and Hayleys Plc (up at 101.00).

Foreign participation remained low as well. There was a higher net foreign outflow of 101 million.

“Foreign selling was seen on John Keells Holdings, and banking counters; Hatton National Bank Plc (down at 195.00), Pan Asia Banking Corporation Plc (down at 20.70), and Commercial Bank of Ceylon Plc.

There was selective foreing interest on the diversified financials sector, particularly in companies that had vehicle leasing portfolios. “We think this might be due to the news of the vehicle import ban possibly ending.”

LOLC Holdings Plc closed up at 440.50, People’s Leasing and Finance Plc closed up at 12.20.

Softlogic Holdings Plc which announced the date of its rights issue, closed up at 8.50. (Colombo/Jul12/2024)

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