Skip to main content

There certainly isn't any democarcy in Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, is a former UN appeal judge and the author of Crimes Against Humanity.

Robertson has an op-ed piece in The Age detailing how undemocratic Sri Lanka is.    The removal of the Chief Justice makes that abundantly clear.

"Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, former dean of Colombo Law School and the first woman to be made a Supreme Court judge, is a highly respected jurist.

Last year she infuriated the government by declaring unconstitutional a bill introduced by the President's brother, the Minister for Economic Development, which would have centralised political power (especially at the expense of the northern, largely Tamil province) and would have given the minister wide-ranging powers to infringe civil liberties. So the government decided to remove her and 117 of its tame MPs introduced a bill to impeach her on 14 charges of alleged ''misconduct''.


The principle of judicial independence requires that no judge should be impeached for doing his or her duty, merely because the decision has upset the government. That is exactly what the Rajapaksa government has done in the case of Dr Bandaranayake.


Three of the charges accused her of misinterpreting the constitution. But it is a judge's job to interpret the constitution and she gave it a purposive construction with which most judges - in Australia and elsewhere - would have agreed. Indeed, with two colleagues who joined in her judgment she interpreted the meaning of a key word in the constitution by looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary - a familiar source of linguistic enlightenment in courts throughout the Commonwealth. But not for these 117 MPs.


Before politicians sack a respected judge, they must at least afford her a fair trial. So to whom did the Speaker, Rajapaksa's elder brother, entrust this task? To a ''Star Chamber'' of seven cabinet ministers.


It sat in secret, refusing the Chief Justice's request to admit the public and refusing to have international observers. It declined to be bound by any rules about the prosecution bearing the burden of proof and it gave her no time to prepare any defence - she was presented with 1000 pages of evidence and told to be ready for a trial starting the following day.
The tribunal chairman told her expressly that it would allow no witnesses, whereupon she and her counsel walked out, despairing of any fair trial. The next day, in her absence and without notice to her, they called 16 witnesses whom she could not in consequence cross-examine.


The result was a foregone conclusion. She was found ''guilty'' on three charges of misconduct on evidence that could not stand up in any real court and could not in any event amount to ''misconduct'' under any sensible definition.


For example, the fact that her bank had addressed her as ''Chief Justice'' on her statements was regarded as an abuse of office justifying her removal. The Supreme Court quashed the Select Committee's findings of guilt, but the President refused to obey their orders."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Big Brother alive and well in the USA in 2007

The so-called "war on terror" has shown itself up in a multitude of manifestations. The most dangerous thing has been governments using the "excuse" of the war to restrict certain civil liberties, allowing government agencies to pursue a variety of things that they would otherwise would not - and should not - be allowed to do and gathering, and retaining, a variety of information on its citizens.

The Washington Post reports on the latest incursions into civil liberties of all Americans:

"The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as lo…

Whatever democracy the Palestinians had is dying

Almost a desperate cry from a well-known, respected and sober moderate Palestinian.

Mustafa Barghouthi is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He was a candidate for the Palestinian presidency in 2005.

He writes in a piece "The Slow Death of Palestinian Democracy" on FP:

"Palestinian municipal elections were supposed to be held last week. Instead, they were canceled. A statement released by the Palestinian Authority claimed the cancellation was "in order to pave the way for a successful end to the siege on Gaza and for continued efforts at unity" between Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and the government in the West Bank.

The cancellation of this election was an unjustified, unlawful, and unacceptable act. It damages democratic rights and makes a mockery of the interests of the Palestinian people.

But this is far more than an internal Palestinian issue. The only lasting peace between Isr…