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Sarath N. Silva – A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Until he achieved a position of power he did not have a track record for sheer viciousness, a weakness for personal vendetta and an absolute disregard for principles of justice. All this came out only once he became the Chief Justice of the country.

by Frederic Jansz

(August 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The origin of corruption is when someone thinks power is for him, his family and his henchmen, said former Chief Justice Sarath N. de Silva speaking last week at the launch of the website ‘Voice Against Corruption’

That Sarath Nanda Silva was a Chief Guest at this ceremony is not only ironical but laughable. It only personifies the ridiculous depths to which civil society will sink or choose willingly to adopt a comfortable state of amnesia.

That Sarath Nanda Silva was invited to launch a website which mandate will purportedly fight corruption speaks volumes for the ludicrous levels to which Sri Lankan civil society will stoop. But then these attitudes are so typical to our fabric.

Separate charge

Given the oft repeated but all too true cynicism that Sri Lankans have short memories let us for the record remind those spineless humans who trade as rights activists that Sarath N. Silva is fundamentally a bully and a corrupt one at that.

Until he achieved a position of power he did not have a track record for sheer viciousness, a weakness for personal vendetta and an absolute disregard for principles of justice. All this came out only once he became the Chief Justice of the country.

He ran the Supreme Court and the judiciary as his personal property. Magistrates and judges who did not do his bidding were harassed until they resigned while those who did could get away with rape, financial corruption and much more. His reign as Chief Justice saw the judiciary reaching its lowest levels in terms of credibility and trust. Justice was no longer blind but fixed at the highest level.

The highest court in the land was personalised and politicised to such an extent that its rulings became the butt end of jokes. His personal behaviour with wide publicity only added to the drama. In doing all this he has destroyed a key position of its prestige and stature.

To say Sarath Nanda Silva was the most controversial Chief Justice ever is an understatement. While most independent institutions in the country were undermined and discredited by successive governments, the Supreme Court managed to maintain its credibility with the people. This was done by judges who stuck to their task of interpreting the law. Then came Sarath N. Silva and in a period of 10 years since he took office he totally destroyed the credibility of the Supreme Court to an extent that it will take decades before the Chief Justice or the decisions of the highest court in the land will be taken seriously.

It is as an Appeal Court judge that Sarath N.Silva first showed his true colours. He quickly made a name for himself as a judge who could be “influenced.” Especially by his friends.

Then came the incident that showed the true nature of Sarath N. Silva. When his wife filed for divorce he blatantly interfered with the case and then went further and fixed a one-sided judgment for his “girl friend” in her divorce case. Once all this became public, it stunned not only the judiciary but the entire legal fraternity.

For a time it appeared that his career in the judiciary was over. The then President D. B. Wijetunga flatly refused to promote him as President of the Appeal Court. His career was saved by the then Attorney General Tilak Marapona and ably supported by none other than Professor G. L. Peiris. By then Marapona was a close political adviser to President Wijetunga and it is he who persuaded the President to give Silva his promotion. By doing so Marapona, helped to pave the way for the “worst” Chief Justice in the country’s history.

His career path to the post of Chief Justice was mapped out by Professor G. L. Peiris. It is he who made the deal with Sarath N. Silva. The new government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga needed a “trusted man” to become Attorney General. Peiris put forward his pal Sarath as that man and Sarath agreed to step down as President of the Appeals Court on the condition that he would be made the next Chief Justice. Of the many crimes committed by G. L. Peiris, the politician in the name of political expediency, this would be the worst.
The damage done by Sarath N. Silva to the Supreme Court in particular and the judiciary in general will take decades to be corrected. Much worse he has set an example to those who will follow him as to how to misuse and abuse the powers and privileges of the Chief Justice.

During the brief tenure of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister the government went ahead and presented an impeachment document calling for the removal of Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva.

The impeachment motion documents a number of instances of misbehaviour on the part of Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva. The first case cited was that the CJ in his capacity as ex-officio chairman of the Judges Institute, which also functions as the official residence of the Chief Justice had employed as caretaker of this institute a person by the name of Rohana Kumara, a convicted criminal against whom several criminal cases were pending.

Despite the facts that were contained in the impeachment document, Silva as Chief Justice at the time continued to permit Rohana Kumara to function as caretaker at the Judges Institute as well as to use a vehicle bearing the name tag ‘Judges Institute.’ Rohana Kumara was eventually taken into custody on December 29, 2001. At the time of his arrest, Kumara had requested that he be allowed to speak to the CJ, but the officer in charge of the police party, Sub Inspector Tennakoon had refused permission.

Police records reveal that at this moment, the third accused in this case, Lakshmi Kusumalatha who had been close by, had taken a phone call to the CJ and informed him of Rohana Kumara’s arrest.

When Sub Inspector Tennakoon had questioned Rohana Kumara at the time of his arrest as to why he was evading arrest, Rohana Kumara’s reply had been that he was hiding temporarily on the advice of Chief Justice Sarath Silva. This fact was reported and made public, and never at any stage contradicted by the sitting CJ. Another case cited was a fundamental rights application case No. 43/2000. This was filed in the Supreme Court allegedly by attorney-at-law, M. B. S. Weerakone, on behalf of Nupul Kumara in connection with another incident. Weerakone subsequently filed a letter in court stating that he did not file the said petition 43/2000 along with 40/2000 and 44/2000 and complained that his signature on the three petitions were forgeries. When this matter was taken up on February 19, 2001, before the Chief Justice and two other judges, Sarath Silva simply dismissed the said petition No. 43/2000 and the other two petitions and made no comment about the fraudulent signature that had been placed on the petition.

Separately, the Chief Justice was charged in the impeachment motion with having acted in a manner unbecoming of the position of a judge of the highest court in the land apart from the office of the Chief Justice.
This charge is with reference to three fundamental rights applications referred to the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the appointment of the CJ. These applications sought a full bench to hear and determine the petitions owing to the public and constitutional importance of this matter.

The impeachment motion referring to these applications asserted that the Chief Justice more or less threw these applications out of court where he was a respondent and an interested party by making orders that were partial to his own interests.

In another fundamental rights application, case no. 503/99 in which Sarath Silva was the presiding judge, he had ridiculed and insulted the petitioner Rev. Rupha Pemananda.

The CJ on this occasion has said, “Buddhist monks should not be employed whilst wearing saffron robes and if they so wish to be employed they should disrobe themselves. They become monks to serve the Buddha Sasana and it is not proper for them to take employment or become members of any organisation since they are provided with dhana. If they do what they want they should first disrobe.”

In the fundamental rights case no. 681/99 on which the petitioner was a doctor in public service and a member of the GMOA, Sarath Silva who presided at the hearing had addressed these words to the petitioner; “government doctors do not perform any work. They are not to be found at their stations, they only know how to go on strike, therefore it is appropriate to punish them.”

In yet another fundamental rights application filed by Lal Priyantha Liyanage in which then Minister Richard Pathirana was one of the respondents, leave to proceed was refused by a Bench presided over by Sarath Silva who told the petitioner, “Minister Richard Pathirana came to my house and cried. He told me he never did a thing like this. I know him. He is not a person who will do a thing like this.”

During the campaign for the 2000 parliamentary elections many applications were filed alleging abuse of state owned media to promote the candidates of the then People’s Alliance government.

Sarath Silva as Chief Justice constituted the benches over which he presided and made orders. In the fundamental rights application filed by UNP Chairman Karu Jayasuriya seeking redress against Associated Newspapers Ceylon Ltd and its editors for abuse of the media for the benefit of the ruling People’s Alliance, Sarath Silva summarily dismissed the application without any reason.

Another fundamental rights application 578/2000 also instituted by Karu Jayasuriya seeking orders against the Independent Television Network (ITN) for gross abuse of the media for the benefit of the ruling People’s Alliance, Sarath Silva once more dismissed the application without due hearing.

Karu Jayasuriya was the first signatory to a notice of resolution for the impeachment of Sarath Silva as Chief Justice. This resolution was dated June 6, 2001. Jayasuriya subsequently filed three cases in the Supreme Court.

The CJ then constituted Benches to hear these cases over which he presided. In the case against the then chairman of SLRC and SLBC, Silva granted leave to proceed, but fixed the dates for February 5, 2002 as the date of hearing despite vehement objections of counsel that this would render the application of no effect as the general election was scheduled for December 5, 2001.

Delaying tactics

In his capacity as ex-officio Chairman of the Judicial Services Commission, (JSC) the CJ is charged with having maliciously caused the termination of services of Additional Colombo Magistrate, Hiran Ekanayake for reasons unconnected with the performance of the duties of his office.

Sarath Silva accused Ekanayake of being biased against the People’s Alliance Chief Minister of the North Central Province, Berty Premalal Dissanayake and partial towards Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Also in his capacity as ex-officio Chairman of the JSC, the Chief Justice had summoned Magistrate Jayaki de Alwis and questioned her regarding the reason why she had made certain adverse orders against Inspector of Police, Umagiliya, the bodyguard of People’s Alliance Chief Minister of North Central Province, Berty Premalal Dissanayake.

He called upon her to resign. Upon her declining to do so, she was dismissed from service without an inquiry. She was re-instated after two days and thereafter compelled and pressurised to tender her resignation.
Again in his capacity as JSC Chairman, the Chief Justice subjected magistrate Lawrence Costa to constant harassment on the allegation that Costa was biased towards the supporters of the UNP in making his orders as a magistrate. Costa also later resigned unable to bear the pressure brought on him.
Living in adultery

From April 1992, whilst holding the office of Chief Justice while his marriage to Manorani Silva subsisted in law, he cohabited and lived in adultery with Damayanthi Shirani Jayasekera, nee Gunaratne.

Damayanthi’s husband, Chartered Engineer and Former President, Organisation of Professional Associations, W. B. A. Jayasekera subsequently complained to the JSC against Colombo Additional District Judge, Upali Abeyratne who he said had handled his divorce case partially and in favour of Sarath Silva who had been named as a respondent in the case.

The JSC chaired by former Chief Justice G. P. S. de Silva held an inquiry and ordered that Upali Abeyratne be deprived of promotions for a period of two years and that he be transferred out of the judicial zone of Colombo to Moneragala for two years.

No sooner Sarath Silva assumed office as Chief Justice and thereby took over as JSC Chairman, he cancelled this order and transferred Upali Abeyratne to Gampaha and almost immediately thereafter to Colombo.

The impeachment motion further charged that Sarath Silva had hurriedly reconstituted Benches so that he could preside whenever petitions had been filed against the Constitution.

One such instance was in relation to the Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Bill of August 3, 2000. Despite Attorney-at-Law S. L. Gunasekera raising an objection to the Bench on the grounds that Sarath Silva had previously as Attorney General taken an active part in the drafting of the Bill, and also having been a proponent of the draft Constitution at various public fora, Sarath Silva persisted in taking up the case before him.

He also on this same occasion, disregarded the plea of counsel that this matter of paramount importance should come up for hearing before a fuller bench including the senior judges of the Supreme Court.

In the case of Anthony Michael Emmanuel Fernando, the Chief Justice sat in violation of the provisions of Section 49 (3) of the Judicature Act. Sarath Silva sentenced Fernando to one year of rigorous imprisonment presiding on the Bench despite having been named as a respondent. And this is the man who today dares – yes we stress on that word – dares preach good governance and anti corruption activism when he as CJ of this country made an ass of the law.

Courtesy: Sunday Leader

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