Lawyers in Sri Lanka have boycotted the inauguration of the government's newly-appointed chief justice.
Sri Lanka's legal fraternity takes a stand for judicial independence (Credit: ABC)
The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has been agitating for the reinstatement of sacked chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake, saying due process had not been followed.
The lawyers' organisation, which has 12-thousand members, also questioned the credentials of new chief justice Mohan Peiris.
Mr Peiris is a former attorney-general, whom the lawyers claim consistently blocked efforts to prosecute officials for rights abuses.
President's Counsel Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is a sitting member of parliament and President of Bar Association of Sri Lanka.
Speaker: Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, MP and President of Bar Association of Sri Lanka
RAJAPAKSHE: From the beginning, we in the bar association, which is the largest professional body, consisting over 12-thousand members all over the country, we passed several resolutions, and one of the resolutions was to have a fair trial (for sacked chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake) in keeping in line with the international standard. And that was our requisite. And that in the event the government, the parliament refused to allow that procedure, that we also decided we would NOT welcome the new chief justice after the sacking of the former chief justice.
When there was a so-called 'welcoming ceremony' on Wednesday, in the Supreme Court, we in the Bar Association, we did not take part. The most significant event is the speech of the President of the Bar Association, to welcome the new Chief justice on behalf of the legal fraternity. And that convention was broken yesterday.
LAM: As you say, the Sri Lankan government has appointed Mohan Peiris as the chief justice. Is Mohan Peiris a man who's acceptable as chief justice where the bar association is concerned?
RAJAPAKSHE: Anybody who comes, after summarily sacking without a hearing of the chief justice, that we do not concede that the appointment as a proper person, that is why we refuse to welcome (him).
LAM: Is the Bar Association and its members planning to boycott the new chief justice, or will you try and get along?
RAJAPAKSHE: That is practically not possible, because the lawyers have hearings, or litigants and lawyers have no control, before which bench and before judges, that their cases would be argued. And therefore, if the lawyers do not appear, then they would be found fault for professional negligence. And therefore, it is not practical, and lawyers will continue to appear.
LAM: You referred earlier to a fair trial for (sacked Chief Justice) Ms Bandaranayake - a reference to the impeachment by parliament on charges of financial and official misconduct - so should she not have stepped aside anyway, until investigations were completed?
RAJAPAKSHE: Whatever the judicial institution or the body or the tribunal, when they come to a conclusion to see whether a particular person is guilty or not, the most fundamental and basic principle is that there has to be a hearing, with witnesses. In the absence of any such process or determination, I don't think that anybody will accept that as a justifiable decision on the part of the parliamentary select committee.
In terms of the constitution, of course, all the judges of the superior courts, that is the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, are appointed by the President. That is a constitutional provision. But at the same time, it is the cardinal duty on the part of the President to assure that he's appointing impartial judges - capable and impartial judges. After this appointment, and after he's assumed duties, there is nothing much left for the bar association to do.
LAM: What about the new Chief Justice Mohan Peiris - can the bar association do business with him?
RAJAPAKSHE: The people have some grievance. No doubt, he was a former attorney-general who retired two years ago. After that, he held a political appointment as an advisor to the cabinet of the present government. So we'll have to wait and see. It is premature to say that that's all... (inaudible). After the appointment, so far we did not meet in an executive committee or council meeting. And so far, we did not take a chance to discuss anything about that.