The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka [official website] on Thursday ruled that the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake were unlawful. The court held that the parliamentary committee does not have the authority [Reuters report] to investigate or proceed with the impeachment of a senior judge; these tasks are left to the judiciary. Thus, by stepping into the judiciary's role, the parliament had exercised power beyond its authority, ultimately rendering the entire proceeding unlawful. The parliament has not yet commented on the ruling, but it is expected to make an announcement after next week's debate concerning Bandaranayake's impeachment.
The decision comes only days after a UN independent expert expressed concern [JURIST report] about the increasing threats and attacks against judges and lawyers who fight for the independence of the judiciary. Gabriela Knaul [official profile] called for the independence of the judiciary and criticized the parliament for exercising control over judicial matters, which violates the principle of separation of powers, due process and international standards. In mid-December Bandaranayake appealed [JURIST report] her conviction arguing that she was not given adequate opportunity to present her defense. She asked to declare the committee's findings illegal and order parliament to suspend any further proceedings against her, pending appeal. She was found guilty [JURIST report] of three out of five charges of misconduct by the parliamentary committee earlier that month. More than 300 of Sri Lanka's judges had met in the capital Colombo to call for impartiality [JURIST report] in the impeachment proceedings. In November the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers urged [JURIST report] Sri Lanka to take appropriate measures to protect the country's judiciary from threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Earlier last month hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers and citizens protested [JURIST report] on the street in Colombo calling the government to halt to the impeachment proceedings.