Sri Lanka's chief justice rejects impeachment charges

COLOMBO Fri Nov 9, 2012 4:43pm IST

Opposition activists hold up placards during a protest in Colombo November 5, 2012. Hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers and opposition activities took to the streets of Colombo to protest against a government move to impeach the country's top judge in an increasingly bitter dispute. Lawyers marched from the Supreme Court to the city centre denouncing efforts by President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance party to sack Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. REUTERS/Stringer

Opposition activists hold up placards during a protest in Colombo November 5, 2012. Hundreds of Sri Lankan lawyers and opposition activities took to the streets of Colombo to protest against a government move to impeach the country's top judge in an increasingly bitter dispute. Lawyers marched from the Supreme Court to the city centre denouncing efforts by President Mahinda Rajapakse's United People's Freedom Alliance party to sack Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's chief justice, facing an impeachment motion filed by the government, rejected on Friday the charges against her and vowed to refute them.

The bid to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first female head of the Supreme Court, has raised the risk of a destabilising clash between the government and judiciary.

The confrontation follows months of deteriorating relations between the chief justice and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the government complaining she had over-stepped her authority and Bandaranayake's supporters complaining of interference.

The impeachment motion, filed by the ruling party and lodged in parliament on Tuesday, contains 14 charges ranging from undeclared assets to violating constitutional provisions.

A law firm representing Bandaranayake, Neelakandan & Neelakandan, said in a statement she had declared all her assets and received no extra pay from anywhere since being appointed chief justice.

"Clearly there has been no financial impropriety on her part," the law firm said. "Our client totally denies the other allegations and can easily refute them."

A parliamentary committee will be set up to investigate the charges. Bandaranayake could be removed with a simple majority of 113 votes in the 225-member parliament. Rajapaksa and his allies control more than two-thirds of seats.

Bandaranayake's supporters say she has been trying to preserve the independence of the judiciary in a highly politicised environment.

She recently came under criticism for ruling against a bid by the central government to take control of a 80 billion rupees development budget, saying it had to be approved by the country's nine provincial councils.

The block on the bill angered the government and its supporters, some of whom accused the judiciary under Bandaranayake of over stepping its authority.

The United States has raised its concern, calling on the government this month to "avoid any action that would impede the efficacy and independence of Sri Lanka's judiciary".

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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