Special Five-Judge Bench to hear petitions against 20A
By Kamal Weeraratna
Chief Justice (CJ) Jayantha Jayasuriya has appointed a special Bench consisting of five Supreme Court Justices, to consider the 18 Special Determination petitions filed against the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill tabled in Parliament by the Government.
The Bench, besides CJ Jayasuriya also consists of four other Justices, namely, Buwaneka Aluwihare, Priyantha Jayawardhane, Vijith K. Malalgoda and Sisira de Abew.
The petitions will be taken up for consideration on 29 September. A total of 18 petitions have been filed against the 20th Amendment thus far. Six more petitions were filed on 25 September before the Supreme Court, challenging the proposed 20th Amendment.
One of the petitions filed on 25 September was by the Young Lawyers Association. In addition another petition was filed by a group of UNP candidates who had contested the recent Parliamentary Election including Dr. Ajantha Perera, Oshala Herath, Jeran Jegadeesan and Dr. Chandima Wijegunawardana.
The General Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers Union, Sylvester Jayakody, the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, and two citizens namely T.D.B. Wijegunawardena and P.K.R. Perera also filed petitions on 25 September.
SD petitions had also been filed on 24 September by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) General Secretary and Parliamentarian Ranjith Maddumabandara, TNA Leader and MP R. Sampanthan, Anil Kariyawasam, public interest litigation activist Nagananda Kodituwakku, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Attorney-at-Law Indika Gallage, the former Executive Director of the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, Transparency International Sri Lanka, human rights activist Abdul Sanun and three civilians named S.C.C. Illangavon, Lohini Fernando and Lakmal Jayakody.
Attorney General, Dappula De Livera has been cited as the sole respondent of the SD petitions. The petitioners claim that certain provisions of the proposed Bill of the 20th Amendment severely violate the country’s 1978 Constitution. They call for a two-thirds majority of the Parliament and a public referendum to pass the Bill.
The Bill of the 20th Amendment was tabled in Parliament on 22 September, amidst a cacophony of protests from the SJB-led Opposition.
The petitioners have alleged that certain clauses of the proposed Bill flout a number of Fundamental Rights (FR) and other provisions assured by the current Constitution.
The petitioners through in each petition have stated that the mooted Bill contains provisions that are seriously prejudicial to the public such as the removal of the provisions allowing for the filing of FR petitions against the President, drastically curtailing the powers vested with the Election Commission to file legal action against the violation of directives issued by the Commission, the preventing of the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister’s Office and State institutions from being audited and removing the restrictions placed preventing a person with dual citizenship from contesting a future General Election or Presidential Poll.
The petitioners have further noted that the proposed Bill seeks to reintroduce the provisions allowing the submission of emergency Bills, which were annulled by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution by the previous regime.
They have also informed the apex Court that through the Amendment, the Government has deleted the power vested with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption to probe an incident of bribery or corruption sans a prior complaint and that it also removes the qualifications needed to be appointed as Auditor General.
The 18 petitioners have also emphasised that the proposed Bill flouts the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, as well as other Articles of the Constitution and therefore they have prayed the Supreme Court to deliver a verdict declaring that the said Bill will require a two-thirds majority in the House and a public referendum, ahead of its ratification.
The Cabinet approved the 20th Amendment Bill on 2 September and the Extraordinary Gazette Notification was published 24 hours later.