Sri Lankan lawmakers conclude judges’ hearing

Sri Lankan lawmakers have concluded hearing impeachment charges against the country’s chief justice in her absence after she and opposition members walked out to protest what they called a lack of fairness in the inquiry.

Government lawmaker Anura Yapa, who headed an 11-member inquiry committee, handed over a report to Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa on Saturday. Rajapaksa, the older brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, did not disclose the contents but said it will be debated on and put to a vote when parliament reopens next year after a vacation.

The government accuses Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake of having unexplained wealth and misuse of power, which she denies. The report is likely to have found Bandaranayake guilty, given recent public speeches by government members.

Bandaranayake, and four opposition lawmakers who were part of the committee, withdrew during the week saying they had no faith that there would be a fair hearing. Opposition members said the seven ruling party members rejected what they deemed reasonable demands for establishing a procedure for the hearing, and allowing Bandaranayake access to the list of witnesses and a chance to cross examine them.

They said the committee gave Bandaranayake and her lawyers less than 24 hours to study 300 documents and prepare for her defense.

Also, in the absence of a clear precedence or agreed procedure the inquiry was conducted in an ad-hoc manner at the will of the numerical majority, they said, adding that remarks made by the government members indicated they had already judged Bandaranayake guilty.

A lawyer representing Bandaranayake said she will not accept the committee’s findings because witnesses were called in her absence and the process was hastily concluded late Friday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because public comments on the proceedings are prohibited.

Lawyers and opposition parties have described the impeachment as an effort to undermine judicial independence and concentrate more powers with President Rajapaksa, who holds executive powers and effectively controls the 225-member Parliament with two-thirds of its members on his side.

[Full Coverage]

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