CJ asks court to quash impeachment guilty verdict

The chief justice today asked an appeals court to quash a parliamentary committee report that found her guilty of unexplained wealth and misuse of power. She says the verdict was illegal, she was not given a fair hearing and the committee itself was unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake also asked the court to bar the parliament speaker from announcing a debate and a vote on the report.

The parliamentary committee this month found Bandaranayake guilty of three charges and declared her unfit for office. Parliament will vote on the report when it reconvenes early next year. The result goes to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who can dismiss or retain Bandaranayake.

The impeachment is seen as the culmination of a months-long dispute between the judiciary and the Parliament, which Rajapaksa controls. With more than two-thirds of the 225-member Parliament on Rajapaksa’s side, the vote against the chief justice is expected to be carried easily.

Bandaranayake’s lawyers said in their application that she was not given enough time to prepare for her defense, and was not given lists of witnesses or an opportunity for her lawyers to cross-examine them. Her request for a public hearing, or for observers to view the proceedings, was turned down, and she was insulted personally, the lawyers said.

Bandaranayake, her lawyers and four opposition lawmakers who were members of the committee walked out midway during a hearing, saying they did not believe in its fairness. Seven ruling party lawmakers met in their absence to deliver the verdict, which Bandaranayake told the court was illegal.

Bandaranayake was found guilty of not disclosing details of 20 bank accounts, buying a house for another person as an attorney and then taking judicial control of cases against the company that sold the property. She was also found to have a conflict of interest because she has supervisory powers over judges hearing a corruption case against her husband, who is a former state bank chairman.

Bandaranayake has denied the charges against her. In relation to the case against her husband, Bandaranayake said the claim of a conflict of interest was based not on facts but on probabilities.

Rajapaksa appointed Bandaranayake as the country’s first female chief justice last year, but she began to be heavily criticized by the government after she ordered that a proposed law giving vast powers to the economic development minister was illegal. The minister is President Rajapaksa’s brother. (AP)