Yesterday, the president of Sri Lanka formally ordered the removal of the country’s chief justice from office, capping a controversial impeachment process against the chief justice. In an email interview, Erik Jensen, professor of the practice of law and senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, explained the circumstances surrounding the constitutional crisis.
WPR: What are the circumstances surrounding the impeachment of Sri Lanka’s chief justice?
Erik Jensen: The critical events surrounding the impeachment rapidly evolved over the course of only four months: from the precipitating act -- a Supreme Court ruling in September against the government -- to President Mahinda Rajapaksa signing an impeachment order yesterday. In September, the Supreme Court ruled against the minister of economic development, one of the president’s younger brothers, in a case where the minister sought to centralize control of a $600 million development budget. In early November, the ruling party filed a petition for impeachment. In early December, a parliamentary select committee (PSC), appointed by the president’s older brother, who is also speaker of the parliament, found Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake guilty of several charges of nondisclosure of wealth and conflict of interest in her handling of corruption cases against her husband. On Jan. 3, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, on reference from the court of appeal, ruled that the PSC had no legal authority to make pronouncements on the rights of the chief justice because the committee had failed to provide her with due process of law in its proceedings. Then on Jan. 10, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, parliament voted 155 to 49, with 20 abstaining, to impeach the chief justice. Yesterday, Rajapaksa signed the impeachment order.