To The Chief?
N. Silva, our worthy Chief Justice, is no stranger to controversy. Right
from the time he was attorney general (and possibly even before, for
memories fade easily), he has found it possible to make headlines in
connection with one scandal or another. Indeed, judging by the media's
coverage of his meteoric career, it is entirely possible that, like Bill
Clinton, he will be remembered more for his extra-judicial exploits than
the mark he makes on Sri Lankan jurisprudence.
latest scandal in which Silva has found himself embroiled, dubbed by the
print media for the umpteenth time as "The CJ Affair," is
hardly more bizarre than many of the earlier ones. According to the
joint-opposition's motion tabled in parliament last Wednesday, it
relates to allegations that "The Chief Justice was detected in a
compromising position with a woman around 9 p.m. in a car in a public
place on July 6, 2004."
week's edition of The Sunday Leader gave explicit and graphic details of
the background of the case. Our purpose in doing so was not to embarrass
Silva or diminish in any way the high office he holds. Indeed, we take
the view that any legal act the Chief Justice might care to perform in
an enclosed vehicle with any person regardless of age or sex is his own
business. It is not a matter of public interest. We do not elect to be
the moral arbiters of Silva's private conduct, so long as it does not
impinge on his public duty as Chief Justice.
does become a matter of public interest and controversy however, is
Silva's pre-emptive denial to the media next day, stating not only that
no such incident occurred, but that the rumour that it did was being
circulated by persons who had interests in cases before him. Silva went
on to give a detailed account of his version of events on the night in
question, stating that his own security personnel would back him up. A
peremptory inquiry by the IGP went on swiftly to uphold Silva's story.
The basis of the rumour that swept Colombo however, it soon became
clear, was an actual entry that had been lodged by policemen attached to
the Mirihana and Talangama police stations. The question now arises as
to what their motives were.
it a bona fide case of mistaken identity? Did, as some media groups
partial to Silva have argued, the policemen fail to write the details of
the vehicle and the identification cards of its occupants correctly?
Even if so, were, as Silva implied, the policemen in the pay of people
who had cases before him? Who are these people? What are the cases? All
these questions and more have been left unanswered. This is worrying
also for the reason that Silva, in his own mind, probably suspects
people associated with cases before him as being responsible. Should he
continue to sit in judgement over them?
appointment of a parliamentary select committee to dredge through the
allegations and sift out the facts would be most welcome. It would be
refreshing however, if the committee were to respect Silva's private
life. What parliament and the people have a right to know is not who
Sarath Silva locks himself up in cars with - if indeed, he is given to
doing so - but whether the Chief Justice, in his denial, told the truth,
in which case the police's faux pas in implicating him should not go
unpunished. On the other hand, if- God forbid! - Silva had lied, this
would be clear grounds for impeaching him all over again. It would not
do to have a Chief Justice who would knowingly lie to the people of this
would question that Sarath Silva has been the most controversial Chief
Justice this country has ever had. As attorney general, he was publicly
ridiculed by President Kumaratunga on national television as being
inefficient. She had personally handed him letters for action and there
had not been so much as a reply, she said. Silva did not respond to
that, but eventually found himself promoted, by the very same President,
to Chief Justice.
has not been so forgiving however, when irked by lesser mortals. When,
as attorney general, he found his department justly criticised by Sports
Minister S. B. Dissanayake, he promptly withdrew its services from the
Sports Ministry. When it was revealed that one of his officers had
offered an inducement in order to persuade a member of the Bribery
Commission to resign, Silva denied knowledge of it. Yet, so piqued was
he that he withdrew the services of the Attorney General's Department
from the Bribery Commission, effectively crippling it.
is not the first time an attempt has been made to subject Sarath Silva
to investigation by a select committee of parliament. In the aftermath
of his impeachment in 2001, a similar motion found itself challenged
before the Supreme Court. Although the motion materially affected Silva,
he as Chief Justice appointed a three-judge bench to hear the case. The
court ruled to prevent the speaker appointing a select committee to
investigate the impeachment motion against Silva. Days later, a
five-judge bench, also appointed by Silva, in effect negated the earlier
judgement, making the Supreme Court an object of ridicule in the eyes of
the public. Remarkably, two of the judges, Priyantha Perera and Shirani
Bandaranayake, were common to both benches.
was the corner into which the judges painted themselves that Opposition
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, never quick on the draw when it comes to
attacking anyone, ridiculed Justice Shirani Bandaranayake by name in
parliament. He pointed out that the judge, who had been appointed amidst
considerable controversy by the PA government, had never appeared in a
case in court prior to her appointment to the bench and would do well
even now to attend law classes. On that occasion, the Chief Justice's
skin was saved by the dissolution of parliament, which saw an end to the
motion of impeachment. All that stands to be unravelled now, as a result
of his latest alleged peccadillo.
Silva's swift denial of the events of July 6, barely 24 hours after they
allegedly occurred, is entirely uncharacteristic. In his best-selling
book An Unfinished Struggle, Victor Ivan meticulously documented the
case against Sarath Silva, quoting chapter and verse from documentary
sources. Although years have passed, Sarath Silva is yet to deny a
single allegation made by Ivan, and some of them are so damning that we
hesitate to quote them here. Yet, if that was character assassination,
Silva would have no character left. And he chose to stay mum. No charge
of contempt of court. No charge of defamation.
implications of the allegations against Sarath Silva transcend his
position as a judge, and indeed, his position as Chief Justice. They are
of so serious a nature that they bring the whole of Sri Lanka into
ridicule. All one has to do is go to www.google.com and search for the
offending words An Unfinished Struggle - more than 25 hits for all the
world to see.
Sarath Silva is unfit to hold office, of course he should be turfed out.
It is a decision for parliament to make. Ironically, though the UNP
impeached him in 2001, throughout their two years plus in office, when
they had a comfortable parliamentary majority, Ranil Wickremesinghe
chose not to act against him. That omission, Wickremesinghe will
discover, was careless, although entirely consistent with his party's
lackadaisical approach to governance. Now that they are in opposition,
they have chosen once more to investigate Silva. While necessary, that
does the UNP's credibility little good. Either Sarath Silva is good
enough, or he is not good enough, to be Chief Justice of Sri Lanka.
events of July 6, and especially Silva's denial of the next day, are not
political issues: they should be resolved in a manner that, if anything,
is fundamentally judicial. We often forget that such powers as the
Supreme Court enjoys are delegated to it by parliament. It is wholly
fitting that when the integrity of that court is in question, parliament
steps in and asserts its judicial role. That, now, a select committee
can do. Let us now see with what objectivity, resolve and fairness our
representatives in parliament perform that sacred duty.