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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Former CJ’s Unprecedented Role In Political Office

The Sunday Leader 03/07/2011

The recent appointment of former Chief Justice Asoka de Silva as senior legal advisor to the President has raised eyebrows amongst the legal fraternity.

Senior constitutional lawyer, R. K. W. Gunasekara said that there was no clear indication of the tasks Presidential advisors were meant to perform. “No-one knows how they’re selected and what they do,” he said. He added that the Attorney General’s department consisted wholly of senior state officers whose job was to advise the President, and as such there was little room for a legal advisor.

Gunasekara said that the advisors consisted of a ‘hodge-podge collection of individuals… most of whom could be termed as good friends of the Government’, as was revealed when an Opposition MP asked for the names of the President’s advisors in Parliament.

He emphasised that de Silva had not shown any partiality towards the Government during his rulings, and as such, the independence of the judiciary would not be compromised.

He also noted that there was no harm in a former Judge seeking to augment his pension. However, he said that “the public factor of the appointment [was] disturbing.”

Gunasekara added that judges were meant to maintain a ‘pristine quality of integrity’ which was supposed to be continued even after retirement, and as such, de Silva’s acceptance of the position was more a personal integrity issue. De Silva’s predecessor, Chief Justice Sarath Silva said that it was a matter of tradition that once Supreme Court Judges retired, they did not take on permanent assignments. He added, “I won’t say it’s improper or irregular, but in a situation like this… where personal relations count… it is unprecedented, and could lead to bad precedents being set in the future.” He added that it was important that the judiciary was perceived as being an independent mechanism. As such, he said tradition should be adhered to, except in the cases where it was statutorily required for judges to be appointed (such as the Bribery Commission).

President of the Bar Association, Shibly Aziz, said he could not comment on the issue as he had not heard both sides of the story.