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11 December 2023

Lankan president reinstates sacked chief justice

By Reuters

Sri Lanka's president has reinstated a former Chief Justice who was sacked by defeated leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, saying the removal of Shirani Bandaranayake had been illegal, state media said on Wednesday.

Rajapaksa dismissed Bandaranayake, the first woman to head Sri Lanka's judiciary, in 2013 after its parliament impeached her, disregarding rulings from the Supreme Court that the process was illegal and threatened judicial independence.

Later Rajapaksa appointed his ally Mohan Peiris as chief justice, despite strong opposition from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, representing lawyers.

"President Maithripala Sirisena has reinstated the former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake on a special cabinet approval," state-run Independent Television Network said.

"Therefore the appointment of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris will be cancelled and considered as an illegal appointment."

The Presidential media division said both the removal of Bandaranayake and the appointment of Peiris were null and void because the Rajapaksa government had not followed the proper constitutional procedure.

Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term to Sirisena, his former health minister, in a January 8 presidential poll.

His government impeached Bandaranayake on allegations of failure to disclose financial assets, abuse of power and disregarding the constitution. Bandaranayake has denied any wrong doing.

The Sri Lankan Bar Association, which had refused to recognise Peiris as a legitimate Chief Justice, said the government had accepted its opinion.

However, some lawyers voiced concern that Bandaranayake's  reinstatement had not followed the proper procedure.

"This is a real blunder. The government should have done this with the parliament's approval," a state counsel told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Rajapaksa's government came under heavy pressure from the international community for ‘gross interference’ in the judiciary after the removal of Bandaranayake.