The expanding power of the executive headed by an all powerful President is fast eroding the independence of the Sri Lankan judiciary, a top international lawyers’ body has warned.
Especially worrying are the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave sweeping powers to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the proposed 19th Amendment that limits the Chief Justice’s term to five years and gives the President to appoint the secretary to the judicial services commission (JSC), the London-based International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute said in a statement.
“We believe that it is by providing judges with a permanent or long-term mandate that their independence will be maximized, as will public confidence in the judiciary’, said Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair. ‘We do not consider the five years proposed by the 19th Amendment to equate to appropriate security of tenure. Further, we are concerned that the appointment of the Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission, a key judicial institution, will make it vulnerable to political influence, perceived or otherwise,’’ he said.
Rajapaksa has come under criticism for increasingly concentrating powers in his hands in all spheres of public life.
“We consider the 18th Amendment to be far inferior to the 17th Amendment, in terms of the important provision of checks and balances. We are concerned that presidential control over the Parliamentary Council (constituted through the 18th Amendment) significantly reduces the possibility of independent scrutiny of appointments to public institutions, including the Judicial Services Commission,’ commented Hans Corell, IBAHRI Vice-Chair.
“As Sri Lanka moves to build a sustainable peace and to maintain public confidence in the fair administration of justice, we invite the Government to send out a clear message that it is committed to ensuring strong and independent institutions,’’ Corell added.
“The Government’s continuing failure to fully implement the 17th Amendment and re-establish the Constitutional Council has reduced public confidence in its commitment to independent institutions and the rule of law,” the IBAHRI had concluded after a fact-finding mission to Lanka in 2009.