Lankan court stops impeachment proceedings against top judge

Sri Lanka's Court of Appeal today halted a parliamentary committee's impeachment proceedings against the country's first woman chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake, who had sought a writ order to declare the findings of the panel illegal.

The Appeal Court noticed the parliament speaker and parliamentary select committee members to appear before it on January 3 and asked them not to act in derogation of the chief justice until the court concludes its hearings.

The hearing was with regard to a plaint filed by Bandaranayake on December 19 seeking an order to quash the findings of the committee, which probed impeachment charges against her.

A lawyer for Bandaranayake said the Appeal Court held that if quashed by it the findings of the panel would be null and void and the panel should advise themselves of this eventuality when taking further action.

The parliamentary committee on December 8 ruled that Bandaranayake was guilty of three of the 14 charges in the impeachment proceedings against her moved by the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition legislators.

The three charges were financial impropriety based on non declaration of assets and conflict of interest in a case involving a failed investment company. The 54-year-old chief justice denied all the charges against her. On December 6, she stormed out of the impeachment hearing in parliament, saying she will not be given a fair trial.

The court ruling today has added a new dimension to the impeachment issue as parliament claiming its supremacy over judiciary had ignored previous notices issued by the court. However, Bandaranayake's lawyers said today's ruling had asserted the court's jurisdiction on the impeachment impasse.

Impeachment of Bandaranayake was the result of a months long dispute. The government was angered by Supreme Court rulings which it claimed was blocking the government's progress. The government targets Bandaranayake in a media campaign to bring pressure on her to resign.

The opposition has claimed the whole process a political witch hunt.

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