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Court: Panel can't impeach Sri Lanka judge

  |   Jan. 4, 2013 at 5:30 AM
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A Sri Lankan appeals court ruled a parliamentary committee has no legal standing to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake.

The three-judge court, led by Justice Sri Skandarajah, made its ruling on a petition by Bandaranayake, appealing the committee's finding last month of professional misconduct against her.

The court said action can only be taken against a judge based on law passed by Parliament, which is scheduled to decide the judge's fate in a vote later this month.

In her petition, Bandaranayake said she was not given sufficient time to prepare her defense and not given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Bandaranayake, an academic, as the country's first woman chief justice in 2011.

Political opponents say the impeachment effort came after an impasse between Bandaranayake and the legislative the executive branches on a bill designed to take away some of the powers of the country's provinces. Some published reports said the bill would empower a ministry controlled by Basil Rajapaksa, a brother of the president, on spending millions of dollars of development funds.

The impeachment charges said the chief justice stepped "out of line" in amassing wealth and property and not declaring her assets.

Earlier this week, Gabriela Knaul, the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said attacks against judges and lawyers threaten the independence of the Sri Lankan justice system.

"The recent steps taken by the executive and legislative towards impeaching the chief justice appear to be the culminating point of a series of attacks against the judiciary for asserting its independence," Knaul said.

The U.N. official said she has received reports that indicate attacks and threats against Sri Lankan judicial members and lawyers have "dramatically increased" in recent months.

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