Appointments to superior courts must be on merits, integrity rather than seniority
● Requests for a prompt response to recent allegations of abuse of judicial office
The Lawyers’ Collective, a prominent legal advocacy group in Sri Lanka, emphasised that appointments made by the President to the superior courts in consultation with the Chief Justice and as approved by the Constitutional Council must be on merit and integrity rather than merely on seniority. In a statement, the Lawyer’s Collective has requested for a prompt response to recent allegations of abuse of judicial office against the President of the Court of Appeal by Sports Minister Roshan Ranasinghe on November 8, 2023, in Parliament. The Lawyer’s Collective maintained that any allegation of abuse of office by a superior court judge is a very serious matter. Similarly, undermining orders by a court under the cover of Parliamentary privileges without formal complaints is equally very problematic. “It is crucial that expeditious, transparent and robust measures are taken in light of any allegations against a judicial officer to determine if these are true or false, in order to protect the integrity and independence of the judiciary. We remind that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to protecting the fundamental rights of people and maintaining the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka, as guaranteed by Articles 3 and 4(c) of the Constitution”, the Lawyer’s Collective added. The Lawyer’s Collective observed that apart from a procedure for impeachment, there is no transparent and accountable process in place for disciplinary investigations and actions against judicial officers of the superior courts. The Lawyer’s Collective urges the superior courts to establish an internal regulatory system that addresses ethics and discipline in these Courts, whereby the procedure of impeachment by Parliament becomes a measure of last resort. It further maintained that the superior courts must ensure that any allegations are promptly dealt with appropriately and findings made public. The Lawyer’s Collective further emphasised that any allegation of conflict of interest or dereliction of duty or misconduct must be subject to a credible investigation that publicly exonerates or confirms guilt. “The superior courts should also formally promulgate a binding code of conduct and ethics for superior court judges, which was mooted a few years ago,” the statement further added. On behalf of the Lawyers’ Collective, a group of President’s Counsels including Upul Jayasuriya, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Geoffrey Alagaratnam, M.A. Sumanthiran, Dinal Phillips, S.T. Jayanaga, M.M. Zuhair, Attorneys-at-law Prof. Savitri Goonesekere, Prof. Deepika Udagama, Upul Kumarapperuma and several others signed the statement.