Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile] on Tuesday swore in Mohan Peiris, a retired attorney general and trusted aide to the Cabinet, to replace former chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake [official profile], who was removed from office [JURIST report] Sunday. Rajapaksa dismissed Bandaranayake after parliament voted to impeach her [JURIST report] in response to allegations of corruption and bribery. The impeachment vote disregarded a recent Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] that impeachment would be unlawful as Parliament does not have the authority to investigate or proceed with the impeachment of a senior judge. The swearing in [AP report] of the new chief justice could lead to a judicial crisis if lawyers and judges who say the impeachment was illegal refuse to cooperate with Peiris.
The impeachment Bandaranayake has 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.