8 January 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) welcomes the judgment of the Court of Appeal quashing the decision of the majority of members of the Select Committee of Parliament delivered on 7th January 2011, and the determination of the Supreme Court issued last week in respect of the question of constitutional interpretation referred to it by the Court of Appeal. The determination of the Supreme Court held that the investigation and proof of charges brought against a judge in an impeachment motion must be exercised by a body established by an Act of Parliament, and not by one established by Standing Orders of Parliament. The Court further held that matters concerning the mode of proof, burden of proof and standard of proof relating to the charges in an impeachment motion must also be specified by legislation.
The Court’s robust defence of the “immutable Republican principle of the independence of the judiciary,” and its reiteration of the fundamental importance of the rule of law underpin its interpretive arguments. For this reason, the determination represents an important precedent for the supremacy of constitutional values over claims of parliamentary immunity. Moreover, by asserting the jurisdiction to review the legality of Standing Orders that affect the rights of citizens, the determination decisively rejects the notion that Parliament is supreme. The idea of parliamentary supremacy is as much colonial – being a feature of English constitutional law – as it is obsolete. The Court’s determination, which emphasizes the sovereignty of the people and the supremacy of the constitution, is an important judicial reminder that the plausibility of constitutional arguments must be judged by reference to first principles of constitutionalism, and not inappropriate invocations of unconstitutional values and outdated doctrines.
Of more immediate relevance, given that questions over the legality of the impeachment process against the Chief Justice have now been settled definitively by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, it is imperative that all parties concerned comply with the law. Failure to do so will not only be in open contempt of court, but will also precipitate a dangerous constitutional crisis that the country can ill afford. In this respect, we are deeply concerned that the government has taken steps to hold a debate on the Resolution against the Chief Justice. We express our sincere hope that the rule of law will prevail, and that judicial determinations will be fully complied with.