Colombo | Newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena today reinstated Sri Lanka’s first woman chief justice, days after restoration of all ranks of a former army chief, reversing the controversial decisions of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. Shirani Bandaranayake has been restored on the basis that procedure adopted to remove her during the tenure of President Rajapaksa was flawed, J C Weliamuna, Convener of the Lawyers’ Collective attorney-at-law, said today.
The 43rd Chief Justice arrived at the court complex this afternoon where she received a grand welcome from the lawyers. Bandaranayke, Sri Lanka’s first woman chief judge who was unceremoniously removed from the Supreme Court in 2013 by the Rajapaksa government, always insisted that she was still the legal Chief Justice of the country. Her restoration came following a letter sent to current chief justice Mohan Peiris by President Sirisena which stated that Peiris’ appointment was illegal as Bandaranayake had been sacked under a flawed process.
Weliamuna said Peiris has been asked to resign gracefully to pave the way for her. Peiris had steadfastly ignored calls to resign since Rajapaksa’s defeat early this month. Bandaranayake, however, will resign from her position tomorrow, according to sources. Her restoration came after weeks of protest against her successor Peiris urging him to step down with the advent of Sirisena who defeated Rajapaksa in the January 8 election. Rajapaksa’s government fired Bandaranayake in January 2013 after a parliamentary adaptation of an impeachment against her for alleged misconduct in declaring her assets.
The decision came under severe international criticism against the Rajapaksa government as it was seen as an act of political vengeance against the Chief Justice. Rajapaksa appointed a parliamentary select committee to impeach Bandaranayake in late 2012. It was rushed through parliament using the government’s two-third majority. The then opposition claimed that parliament had only approved the setting up of a select committee and its recommendations was not subject for parliament’s approval. Therefore her sacking was illegal.
Sirisena, the joint opposition challenger to Rajapaksa in the presidential election, had pledged to restore Bandaranayake in his manifesto. Last week, President Sirisena had reinstated the rank of former army chief Gen Sarath Fonseka, who was stripped of all ranks and sentenced to jail by Rajapaksa. Sri Lanka’s only four-star general, 64-year-old Fonseka led the Army to defeat the Tamil Tigers in 2009. He later fell out with Rajapaksa and challenged him in the election of 2010. Rajapaksa routed Fonseka in the polls. Thereafter Fonseka was arrested, court martialled and jailed for corruption.