Statement of City Bar President Carey R. Dunne on Judicial Independence in Sri Lanka

A series of decisions by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court rebuffing government attempts to seize increasing control over the country has led to significant conflicts between the judiciary and the government, threatening the rule of law. The initiation of impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake by the Sri Lankan Parliament, a violent assault on the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission, and recent amendments to the laws and Constitution of Sri Lanka all potentially undermine judicial independence.

The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by and is binding on Sri Lanka, requires states to ensure the existence of a “competent, independent and impartial” judiciary. Further, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary obligate all nations to protect judges from “improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.” Publicly available evidence raises serious concerns that Sri Lanka is not complying with its obligations to ensure a competent, independent and impartial judiciary.

The U.S. Department of State has expressed concern that the impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice, in which the next hearing is set for December 4th, could “impede the efficacy and independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary.” Similarly, the New York City Bar Association recently wrote to the Sri Lankan government urging it to comply with its legal obligation to protect the independence of the judiciary, and to ensure that any impeachment proceedings are conducted in a fair and impartial manner.

The importance of an independent and impartial judiciary in the preservation of a free and democratic society governed by the rule of law cannot be overstated. The government of Sri Lanka, like all nations, must take all necessary steps to ensure that an independent judiciary and the rule of law are preserved.