The two Supreme Court Judges, whose shocking resignations from the Judicial Service Commission ?on grounds of conscience? caused a furore in the country, have indicated they would be willing to state their reasons for resigning only before a parliament select committee.
Bar Association of Sri Lanka President Desmond Fernando, told a news conference yesterday it was essential that parliament take up the inquiry into the JSC crisis, since it was the country`s most senior Supreme Court judges who had refused to explain their reasons other than to a committee appointed by parliament to look into the crisis.
The BASL, the Organisation of Professional Associations, the Free Media Movement, Transparency International, the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka and a host of other civil society organizations yesterday called upon parliament to immediately take up the inquiry into the resignation of Justices Shiranee Bandaranayake and T.B. Weerasuriya to prevent further erosion of public confidence in the country`s judicial system.
?It is a very serious situation as these are two sitting judges of the highest court of this land who have resigned not for personal reasons but on grounds they are unable to work according to their conscience?, Mr. Fernando said.
The BASL chief said if parliament itself could not look into the matter, it was duty bound to appoint at least former respected chief justices to take up the inquiry.
Highlighting a crisis in the judiciary that has been brewing for a while now, Mr. Fernando said already, Sri Lanka lost one of its most eminent judges when Justice Mark Fernando retired three years prematurely because he was not appointed to panels hearing important cases.
?When Justice Vigneswaran retired he made a public statement about the state of the highest court of the land. There have been two impeachment motions tabled in parliament against the current Chief Justice, containing very serious allegations. Now these two judges have quit citing reasons of conscience. A fair judiciary is a prerequisite for a free and democratic society, therefore parliament has to inquire into this as a matter of priority?, Mr. Fernando said.
The BASL chief also criticized the JSC secretary`s response on behalf of the Chief Justice where she called into question Justice Bandaranayake`s credentials.
Also addressing media personnel, Transparency International Executive Director J.C. Weliamuna said the JSC Secretary indicated that the Commission could function despite the two resignations, a fact that was completely baseless.
?There is a law of quorum. Article 111 e of the constitution states that the JSC quorum shall be two members. It can function ? but only illegally,? Mr. Weliamuna reiterated.
The JSC comprises three members and administers the minor judiciary and in some cases the High Court. The Chief Justice is ex officio chairman, while the two most senior sitting judges of the Supreme Court make up the Commission. The resignation of Justices Bandarnayake and Weerasuriya respectively the most senior judge of the Supreme Court and the most senior career judge of the Supreme Court last week, sent shock waves throughout legal circles and civil society, especially given their reason for quitting the posts.
In a response to the resignations, the JSC Secretary Chandra Jayathileka issued a media release on behalf of the CJ, stating that the Commission would continue to function and calling into question the academic and professional credentials of the two judges.
Both Justices Bandaranayake and Weerasuriya are said to be deliberating over a response to this press release.
The Daily Mirror learns that the two judges had also boycotted the opening of the new JSC premises recently on grounds that it was not ?new chairs and tables that were necessary, but increased efficiency?. It is learnt that the JSC`s minutes are severely backlogged with the last records being for August 2005.