November 23, 2012 / 2:02 PM / 5 years ago

Sri Lanka's chief justice appears before impeachment committee

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s chief justice appeared on Friday for the first time before a parliamentary select committee considering an impeachment motion against her filed by the government.

Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake (L) arrives at the parliament to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), appointed to look into impeachment charges against her, in Colombo, November 23, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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 President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and the judiciary.

The impeachment motion was filed on November 6 after months of deteriorating relations between the chief justice and Rajapaksa, with the government complaining she over-stepping her authority and Bandaranayake’s supporters complaining of interference.

The motion contains 14 charges ranging from undeclared assets to violating constitutional provisions.

The United States, United Nations and the Commonwealth have raised concern over the impeachment and have called on the government to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

The 11-member select committee considering the charges includes seven ruling-party legislators. Bandaranayake did not comment after the sitting in parliament. Members of the media were not allowed to attend.

A source with knowledge of the proceedings told Reuters the session set out procedures and was adjourned to December 4.

The Supreme Court on Thursday recommended that parliament defer the sitting until December 11 as it is considering 12 cases challenging the legality of the impeachment and the composition of the select committee.

However, the select committee went ahead with the first sitting on Friday.

Bandaranayake recently came under criticism from government supporters for ruling against a bid by the central government to take control of an 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 of over stepping its authority. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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