The Law Society of Upper Canada publicly expresses concern that the recent dismissal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake is politically motivated and may have a negative effect on judicial independence in Sri Lanka.
Reliable reports indicate that on November 1, 2012, the ruling party of Sri Lanka, the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) announced that they had started the process to impeach the Hon. Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, the country's chief justice. Chief Justice Bandaranayake is the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka and the country's first woman chief justice. The Chief Justice has denied any wrongdoing.
It is believed that the complaint against the chief justice was politically motivated and is part of a pattern of attacks and threats against members of the judiciary and lawyers and interference in their work. The steps that were taken towards impeaching the Chief Justice appear to be the culminating point of a series of attacks against the judiciary for asserting its independence.
In December 2012, a Parliamentary Select Committee found Chief Justice Bandaranayake guilty of professional misconduct, unexplained wealth and misuse of power.
In January 2013, the Court of Appeal quashed the findings of the Parliamentary Select Committee that probed the impeachment charges against the Chief Justice. The Court of Appeal said the recent Select Committee was void in law. The Supreme Court also ruled the impeachment process was unconstitutional.
On January 11, 2013, despite the decisions of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the Sri Lankan parliament voted overwhelmingly to impeach the Chief Justice. On January 13, 2013, President Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka, ratified Parliament's vote and dismissed the Chief Justice.
The Law Society of Upper Canada believes strongly in the importance of protecting judicial independence. Judges frequently have to rule on controversial matters and interpret the law in areas where there is legal uncertainty. Judges must be able to make controversial, and even unpopular, rulings without fear of politically motivated sanctions.
Therefore, the Law Society of Upper Canada calls on the government of Sri Lanka to,
- take steps to ensure that judges are not subject to politically-motivated sanctions as a result of issuing decisions;
- publicly recognize the importance, legitimacy and independence of the work of judges and their contributions to the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law;
- ensure that all judges can carry out their peaceful and legitimate duties and activities without fear of removal from office; and
- ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for some 44,700 lawyers and 4,900 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.
The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in Sri Lanka in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.