President’s term of office Prof. G.L. Peiris seeks clarification
Posted on May 28th, 2019

Courtesy Ceylon Today

Professor G.L. Peiris, Chairman, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), yesterday, writing a letter to the Information Officer of the Office of the Presidential Secretariat, asked whether advice was sought from the Attorney General’s Department when Jayantha Jayasuriya was serving as Attorney General, about the President’s term of office.

The letter says:

On or about 8 April 2019, Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara, MP., General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), made a statement that was widely reported in the Media, to the effect that the opinion of the Supreme Court would be sought on the question when President Maithripala Sirisena’s term of office would expire. Mr. Jayasekara argued that since the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s term from six years to five, was certified by the Speaker on 15 May 2015, the President’s term of office commenced on that date. Mr. Jayasekara added that legal advice was being sought on this issue.

Article 129 of the Constitution states that if at any time it appears to the President that a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer that question to that Court. The same Article states that such opinion shall be expressed by at least five Judges of the Supreme Court of whom, unless he otherwise directs, the Chief Justice shall be one. Therefore, since only the President may seek an opinion from the Supreme Court, it must be assumed that Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara made that statement with the knowledge and approval of President Sirisena.

Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara did not state from whom legal advice was being sought. On the previous occasion, when President Sirisena requested an opinion from the Supreme Court on whether he could serve six years in that office, the Hon. Jayantha Jayasuriya, Attorney General, appearing before the Supreme Court unsuccessfully argued that President Sirisena’s term of office was six years. A recent uncontradicted news report states that the Attorney General’s Department has finished paperwork for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court.” Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara also stated that the opinion of the Supreme Court would be sought only after the appointment of the new Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Nalin Perera was due to retire from that office on 28 April 2019. On 26 April 2019, the Constitutional Council approved the recommendation of President Sirisena that the Hon. Jayantha Jayasuriya, Attorney General, be appointed to the office of Chief Justice.

The information I seek is whether on or about 8 April 2019, or at any time before or after such date, President Sirisena or anyone on his behalf or at his request sought legal advice from the Hon. Jayantha Jayasuriya, Attorney General, on the matter referred to by Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara in paragraph 1 above. I am not inquiring what advice, if any, was provided, or the content of any communication received from the Attorney General or any officer assisting the Attorney General which, of course, is privileged, but whether advice was sought from the Attorney General’s Department when the Hon. Jayantha Jayasuriya was serving as Attorney General.

This is a matter of grave national importance in view of Mr. Dayasiri Jayasekara’s statement that the President would be seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court only after Chief Justice Nalin Perera retired from that office, and after the new Chief Justice was appointed; a delay which is inexplicable if the question of law is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it” (Article 129).

The office of President of the Republic, being an office created or established by or under the Constitution, is a public authority” within the meaning of Section 43 of the Right to Information Act. Under Section 3 of that Act, as a citizen, I have a right of access to information in the possession, custody, or control of a public authority.

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