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Ranjan’s seat rendered vacant; ex-MP Ajith Mannaperuma to take his place: Speaker

Actor-politician Ranjan Ramanayake being taken in a prison van following a court appearence/Amitha Thennekoon EconomyNext (file photo)

ECONOMYNEXT – The parliamentary seat of main opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who is currently serving a four-year prison sentence, has been rendered vacant and will be filled by former MP Ajith Manapperuma, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said.

The speaker told parliament this morning that in terms of section 64(1) of the Parliamentary Election Act No 1 of 1981, the Secretary General of Parliament has informed the National Election Commission of the vacancy. Ramanayake ceased to be a member of parliament in terms of article 66 D of the constitution, he added.

The Gampaha district MP was sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment by the Supreme Court for alleged contempt of court in January this year. The actor-turned-politician stood accused of making disparaging remarks about the judiciary at a press conference held in 2017.

Last week the Court of Appeal dismissed a petition filed by Ramanayake seeking a writ order preventing the annulment of his parliamentary seat arguing that there was no legal basis in the petition. The speaker had declined multiple requests made by SJB lawmakers to allow the MP to attend parliament.

In January, SJB MP Ashok Abeysinghe said former MP Mannapperuma would take Ramanayake’s seat in Parliament if the seat were to be declared vacant.

Opposition Leader and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa said in January that his party will stand by the outspoken MP and fight for his right to remain a parliamentarian.

Commenting on today’s announcement, SJB parliamentarian Dr Harsha de Silva said the law needs to change as the offence of contempt of court doesn’t even exist in most countries.

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Director, Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, Dr Asanga Welikala told EconomyNext that in January that while imprisonment over contempt of court charges is legal, it is increasingly seen as inappropriate and disproportionate.

A public apology should suffice in such an event, he said.

According to Welikala, the power to punish for contempt of court lies completely at the discretion of the court. Elsewhere in the Commonwealth, he said, where English law principles are used like in Sri Lanka, many countries have introduced legislation to regulate contempt of court powers.

“Such Acts balance the need to ensure respect for the judiciary with the freedom of expression, and impose limits on punishments. Generally imprisonment, rigorous or otherwise, is now regarded as an inappropriate and disproportionate form of punishment for contempt offences. A public apology should suffice,” he said. (Colombo/Apr07/2021)

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