Former Indian Chief Justice JS Verma cancels visit as Sri Lanka refuses visa

By S Venkat Narayan
Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, February 2:India’s former Chief Justice JS Verma has cancelled his visit to Colombo at the last minute as the Sri Lankan government refused to grant him a visa, the Sunday Island has learnt.

Verma was to arrive in Colombo on Friday night as head of an international fact-finding mission, deputed by the International Bar Association (IBA), to assess the legal issues involved in last month’s impeachment of then Sri Lankan Chief Justice Dr Mrs Shirani Bandaranaike.

He was to have been accompanied by House of Lords member Baroness Usha Prashar, among others.

"I have decided to cancel" (the trip to Sri Lanka), he told The Hindu in a report published today. Asked about the speculation that his Sri Lankan visa was revoked, he said there was no such issue.

However, the Sunday Island understands from diplomatic sources that he was not given a visa by the Sri Lankan government "out of respect for the former Chief Justice of India.""He was going on a mission from the International Bar Association that would have led to local controversies in Sri Lanka.

That would have caused him much distress," a diplomatic source explained. The source asked not to be identified.

The Verma-led delegation was constituted by the International Bar Association. It was mandated to investigate and report on the Sri Lankan Parliament’s actions on the impeachment issue, and if there were any anomalies and transgressions.

Acting on a resolution passed by Parliament on January 11 with a two-thirds majority, President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed Chief Justice Bandaranayake on January 13. Before the impeachment debate could take place, the courts had declared null and void a Parliamentary Select Committee report on which the impeachment motion was based.

Mohan Peiris, PC, has since been sworn in as the new Chief Justice.

Dr Bandaranayake’s last public statement was that she remains Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.

The impeachment was preceded by a high-decibel campaign by the Rajapaksa government, which had levelled allegations of corruption against the chief justice, with many critics, including leading lights of the legal fraternity, picking holes in the government version. Lawyers in the island nation have remained united behind the former chief justice. She had a history of strong anti-government rulings, one of the reasons why she was seen as a thorn in the government’s side.

Last week, talking about his impending visit to Sri Lanka, Justice Verma told a reporter here: "We will spend some days interviewing members of the judiciary, government functionaries, MPs and the legal community to see if there is merit in the allegations that the impeachment was part of the government’s attempt to check the freedom of higher judiciary."

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