Sri Lankan parliament impeaches chief justice

Colombo, Jan 11 (IANS) The Sri Lankan parliament Friday voted by a majority to impeach the country's Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, beginning the process to remove her from office.

The impeachment motion was passed by a two-third majority with 155 members voting for and 49 against it. It is now up to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to take a decision if he will remove the country's first woman chief justice, Xinhua reported.

The government accuses her of corruption, an allegation the chief justice denies, BBC reported. Recent court rulings said the process was unconstitutional, and she may refuse to leave.

Critics of the government say that the top judge is being victimised and the independence of the judiciary is being challenged. The government denies this, the report added.

Parliament had decided to hold a two-day debate on the report of a Parliament Select Committee (PSC), appointed to probe allegations levelled against Bandaranayke.

The PSC had run into controversy over its conduct with members being accused of blatant bias.

Key among the criticism levelled against the committee was the refusal to grant Bandaranayake enough time to present arguments on the charges against her and cross-examine witnesses.

On Dec 6, Bandaranayake had stormed out of the PSC hearings saying she was not being given a fair trial.

There were also allegations that she was insulted and called a "mad woman" by government PSC members.

Citing bias, the four opposition members of the PSC resigned after seven hearings. But the government pushed through with the hearings, eventually finding the chief justice guilty of three of the five charges that were looked into by the PSC.

Bandaranayake later filed charges against the PSC at the Court of Appeal insisting that the process was unfair and therefore illegal.

But the committee went ahead with its proceedings and submitted a report to the parliament's speaker which was debated. On Friday, a vote was taken on the impeachment motion.

Earlier this year, the country's apex court had ruled the PSC unconstitutional.

Bandaranayake fell out of favour with the government after she ruled against a government sponsored bill, Xinhua reported.

The UN had warned that the impeachment could send a negative signal to the international community about Sri Lanka's commitment to its human rights obligations.

The Special UN Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, had said that she did not share the government's view that the impeachment process was its internal matter.

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