President controlling judiciary through handpicked men - UNP

The UNP said yesterday that as part of a plan to emasculate the country’s judiciary, the Rajapaksa government had deliberately made a mockery of important appointments in the judicial system.

The UNā€ˆsaid in a media statement: "The nearest example is the appointment of Priyantha Jayawardena as a Supreme Court judge above the heads of many eligible candidates, sending shockwaves across the entire judicial system of the country.

This was not the first time the present government acted in a dubious and non-transparent manner when it came to key appointments in the judiciary. They unabashedly violated long established traditions of the system and made the judicial service a safe haven for political stooges and henchmen. On the other hand, the government usurped the powers of the Constitutional Council set up by the 17th Amendment, with the implementation of the 18thAmendment which paved the way for family rule and autocracy.

When it comes to appointments of the judiciary, factors such as eligibility, professional integrity, seniority and impartiality should be taken into consideration as the main criteria which determine the suitability of candidates. However, when considering the recent appointments in the judiciary including that of Priyantha Jayawardena it is crystal clear that the government pays little or no attention to such crucial factors and would go to any extent to handpick the "people they prefer".

"Thanks to this arbitrary behaviour shown by the government, the smooth functioning of the entire legal system is now at stake.  As a result, the upward mobility in this system is becoming a privilege enjoyed by those who toe the line of the government. Legal practitioners with professional integrity have lost faith in the system which always gives preference to political allegiances over professional values and standards.

"The appointment of Judges is of pivotal importance not only to the judiciary and the legal fraternity, but also to the entire society as they make a strong impact on the day to day functioning of the society.

"The Constitutional Council, which functioned for a short period after the 17th Amendment was introduced, formulated a transparent mechanism to be followed pertaining to appointments of apex court judges. However, with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, these essential safeguards were done away with. This was clearly demonstrated throughout the illegal impeachment of the 43rd Chief Justice, in January, last year. The President now wields immense power and authority in the system and is in a position to control the entire judiciary according to his or her own whims and fancies, much to the detriment of the people of Sri Lanka.

"As far as we know, at this point, there are three vacancies in the Supreme Court that need to be filled. One vacancy was created by the retirement of Justice Amaratunga and it has not been filled for the last eight months. In addition, two more vacancies were also created by the end of March, taking the total up to three.  

"It appears that the Executive has ignored the present President of the Court of Appeal Justice Sisira Abrew and the Solicitor General Y W Wijetilake. Two months ago another vacancy that came in the wake of the premature retirement of Justice Prem Ratnayake was filled after a hiatus of eight months with the eighth Junior person in the hierarchy of the Attorney General’s Department. When making this appointment, President of the Court of Appeal late Justice Sriskandaraja and the Solicitor General were both overlooked. A few weeks later Justice Sriskandarajah passed away with a broken heart. 

"Therefore, it is clear that the present government has breached age old traditions of the judicial service and circumvented the ‘hierarchy’ in the system in a bid to appoint political stooges to important positions. This has made a debilitating effect on the professional integrity of judges, ethics and values, plunging the entire system into a serious crisis."

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