Sri Lanka reinstates impeached chief justice – Updated
Sri Lanka’s new president on Wednesday restored the country’s former chief justice after she was controversially impeached by the previous administration led by Mahinda Rajapakse.
Lawyers welcomed Shirani Bandaranayake with bouquets of flowers at the Supreme Court in Colombo, although the decision to reinstate her will likely be largely ceremonial as she is expected to step down on Thursday.
A government official who asked not to be named said President Maithripala Sirisena had written to Bandaranayake to say her 2013 impeachment was unconstitutional and she should return to work.
"The chief justice was restored and the imposter was asked to go," said the official, referring to Mohan Peiris, who was appointed to the role by former president Rajapakse.
Sirisena had vowed in his manifesto for the January 8 elections to restore Bandaranayake, who was sacked after her judgements went against Rajapakse’s regime.
But the influential Bar Association of Sri Lanka said that, while Bandaranayake was pleased her name has been cleared, she intends to retire from the post on Thursday.
"The new government accepted our position all along that the impeachment process was never completed," BASL chief Upul Jayasuriya also told reporters.
Bandaranayake herself was not available for comment, but a source close to her said the decision to quit was made in the interests of keeping the judiciary independent.
"A large number of lawyers defended her (when she was impeached)," the source said.
"If she gets on the bench, someone could accuse her of favouring those lawyers who backed her. She is keen to avoid such a situation."
Bandaranayake’s sacking was widely criticised, with the UN Human Rights Council calling it an assault on judicial independence.
She was impeached on charges of misconduct, including an allegation that she failed to declare the existence of bank accounts, which were in fact empty.
But despite a chorus of criticism at home and abroad, Rajapakse appointed Peiris, the government’s senior legal adviser, as her replacement.
Since Rajapakse’s dramatic defeat at the elections, Peiris had been under pressure to stand down after he was implicated in an alleged coup attempt to keep the former leader in power.
There was no comment from Peiris.