By Dinouk Colombage
The Government is intending on introduce the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which will effectively limit the term of office of the Chief Justice to five years and will lend additional powers to the President to appoint the Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission.
Keheliya Rambukwella, Cabinet Spokesman, said, the Government is yet to finalise provisions and clauses in the 19th Amendment. “Until such time I cannot go into any great detail,” he said. Asked why the Government saw fit to implement such changes, he responded saying, “the need to limit the term of the Chief Justice has arisen.”
He further added that requests had been put forward to limit the term of the Chief Justice. He refused to state where these requests had emanated from.
Asked why the Chief Justice’s term was being limited while judges for the Supreme Court can remain on the bench until their age of retirement and whether the impartiality of the Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission would be impaired following this Amendment Rambukwella stressed that the proposed Amendment was still a work is in progress.
Under the present system the power to appoint the Secretary lies with the Commission. Currently the retirement age of the Chief Justice and Supreme Court judges is 65 years.
This new constitutional change if passed will ensure that the CJ either steps down after 5 years in office or when he or she reaches the age of 65, whichever comes first. The current Chief Justice Asoka de Silva is due to retire on May 17 and will be replaced by Supreme Court Judge Shirani Bandaranayake who is currently 58 years old.
The Sunday Leader spoke to former Chief Justice Sarath Silva about the proposed Amendment. He explained that such a move was ‘a deviation from the norm – we have had this system in effect for many years and it has worked throughout that period.’ He further added that he himself had ‘served for 10 years while his predecessor served for 9 years. On both occasions there had been no complaints against the length of term.’
Asked why he believed the government was contemplating yet another Amendment to the constitution, Silva suggested that this was another step in the direction of increasing the powers of the Executive President.
When referring to the possibility of the President being given the power to appoint the Secretary to the Judicial Services Commission he described this as “a clear indication of the Executive exerting influence over the Judiciary.” Silva added that the importance of the post of the Secretary is that it remains separate from the Executive. If this Amendment was to be implemented that position would become ineffective.
Deputy Leader of the UNP Karu Jayasuriya speaking to The Sunday Leader explained that the party had appointed a legal team to study the proposed new Amendment. ‘Once that team has reported back with their findings we will make a statement’ he said. JVP MP Vijitha Herath claimed that he was unaware of the government’s intentions to go ahead with the 19th Amendment. He explained that on Thursday Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told Parliament that they were not planning on implementing the 19th Amendment.