Colombo: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday appointed his cabinet's legal advisor as the country's new Chief Justice to succeed Shirani Bandaranayake, whose impeachment created much furore both inside and outside the nation. Rajapaksa sworn in new Chief Justice Mohan Peiris to replace Sri Lanka's first woman chief justice who was impeached by the parliament in a controversial move.
Peiris, a British qualified solicitor who retired in 2011 as the Attorney General was serving as the legal advisor to the Cabinet. Peiris has lobbied for Sri Lanka during the sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council in recent years.
He is also supervising the implementations of recommendations by Sri Lanka's post war reconciliation commission (LLRC). Presidential officials said Peiris took over as the new chief justice on Tuesday after the sacking of Bandaranayake following a parliamentary ratification last week of the impeachment against her.
Bandaranayake's impeachment came despite the Supreme Court's ruling of the process against her illegal. She had walked out of the parliamentary investigation citing bias. National and international rights groups have severely criticised the government of Sri Lanka over the issue.
Rights groups have questioned the legality of the impeachment that has pitted the judiciary against the government. In keeping with the opposition, Civil society think tank, the Centre for Policy Alternatives filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court seeking an order restraining Peiris from taking office. The legal fraternity was up in arms against the impeachment and had vowed not to cooperate with her successor.
However, there was no immediate reaction from the Bar Association, the lawyers' apex body on the appointment of Peiris. Bandaranayake's next move too was not clear. Her husband is also under investigation by the anti-graft commission for alleged wrongdoing as the Chair of the state's savings bank.
In protest, the opposition stayed out of the proceedings of the parliamentary council session which ratified the appointment of Peiris on Tuesday. There was unprecedented security provided at the Supreme Court premises this morning with police and soldiers manning the streets and road blocks placed to check vehicles.
The US made its displeasure clear over the move. "From our perspective, this impeachment raises serious questions about the separation of powers in Sri Lanka, which is a fundamental tenet of a healthy democracy," said State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma too had urged Sri Lanka government to "pause" the impeachment, saying the organisation was profoundly concerned over it. The opposition UNP had said the move would pave way for international intervention in Sri Lanka.