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Sri Lanka parliament votes to impeach chief justice

The Sri Lankan Parliament [official website] voted in an overwhelming majority on Friday to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake [official profile] and drafted an official motion [materials] imploring the president to remove her from office. According to the motion, the Chief Justice's actions have "plunged the entire Supreme Court and specially the office of the Chief Justice into disrepute." The actions of the Parliament were in response to allegations of corruption and bribery. The impeachment of the Chief Justice disregards a recent Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] that impeachment would be unlawful as the Parliament does not have the authority to investigate or proceed with the impeachment of a senior judge. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, [official website] who has the support of more than two-thirds of Parliament's members, must now determine whether Bandaranayake should be removed from office.

The impeachment Bandaranayake has recently been a source of great controversy. Earlier this month 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 in Sri Lanka. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, 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 of misconduct, arguing that she was not given adequate opportunity to present her defense. 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, Knaul urged [JURIST report] Sri Lanka to take appropriate measures to protect the country's judiciary from threats, intimidation and physical attacks. Earlier that 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.

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