Usurping powers: Legislature v. Judiciary
Posted on August 19th, 2016

By Neville Ladduwahetty Courtesy The Island

The Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill in the form presented has come and gone. It is likely to reappear in another avatar. The reason for the Supreme Court to determine that the Bill was null and void was the vigilance of civil society whose interests were represented by one or two committed and dedicated lawyers. For this the nation is in their debt.

However, what is most interesting is the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reported statement: “The legislature should not let the judiciary usurp its powers” (The Island, August 9, 2016). The report also quotes the Prime Minister: “We would not sack the Chief Justice or bring an impeachment against him because the court did not give us a favourable ruling”.

Such remarks are not only totally unbecoming for any Member of Parliament, least of all a Prime Minster but also reflects a lack of knowledge of fundamental principles of how separation of powers is supposed to work. In this regard it is interesting to note what happened in the U.K. following a judgment in the Sweeney case in June 2006, when both the Home Secretary and a Junior Minister in the Department of Constitutional Affairs, criticized the judgment in which the Lord Chancellor spoke out against both governmental colleagues, and publicly defended the sentencing judge thereby defending the independence of the judiciary and underscoring the principles of separation of powers.

Such conduct should be a lesson for those in power in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka does not have Lord Chancellors to defend the judiciary. However, the knowledge and the hope that the Supreme Court would continue to function undeterred, no matter the barbs, is reassuring and therefore comfortingfor the People of Sri Lanka to know that they could rely on the Judiciary to protect their judicial interests.


Sri Lanka’s Constitution is based on the separation of powers. Article 3 states:

“In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. The powers of government referred to in Article 3 are set out in Article 4. These are legislative powers, executive powers and judicial powers. The focus of this article is the relationship between the Legislature and the Judiciary. Thus, what is relevant are articles 4 (a) and 4 (c).

Article 4 (a) states: “the legislative powers of the People shall be exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the People and by the People at a Referendum”.

Article 4 (c) states: the judicial powers of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through courts, Tribunals and institutions created and established, or recognized by the Constitution, or created and established by law, except in regard to matters relating to the privileges, immunities and powers of Parliament and of its Members, wherein the judicial power of the people may be exercised directly by Parliament according to law”.

In similar vein, Article III Section 1 of the United States Constitution states: “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”.

The specificity in the US Constitution that the judicial powers of the United States are vested in the Courts is also present in Chapter XV of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. Thus, Article 105 (1)in the latter states:

“Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the institutions for the administration of justice which protect, vindicate and enforce the rights of the People shall be – (a) the Supreme Court; (b) the Court of Appeal; (c) the High Court and such other Courts of First instance, tribunals or such institutions as Parliament may from time to time ordain and establish”.

Similarity in provisions in the US Constitution which state: “Congress may from time to time ordain and establish” institutions for the administration of justice, and provisions in the Sri Lankan Constitution, namely, “Parliament may from time to time ordain and establish”, clearly demonstrate that it is the legislature that establishes the laws and the institutions needed to administer justice, and that it is the judiciary that independently exercises judicial powers of the People. The judiciary thus acts as the guardian that protects the interests of the people and their sovereignty as far as judicial matters are concerned. It is “separation of powers” and responsibilities between the Legislature and Judiciary that is at the heart of both Constitutions. The Rule of Law functions best under such a framework.


In keeping with the separation of functions outlined above it would be necessary to “ordain and establish” new laws and institutions to address issues of accountability, since existing laws and institutions are not geared to address violations relating to human rights and humanitarian law. Therefore, it would be necessary for Parliament to “ordain and establish” the structural framework of the institutions needed to address issues of accountability, and the laws and the legal framework within which the judicial officers need to administer justice.

Fundamental to the establishment of the institutions and the laws that they are to administer is the determination of the context in which violations were committed. Therefore, to establish context, the first step is the determination as to which law would apply to the violations committed during the separatist armed conflict in Sri Lanka; is it human rights law or humanitarian law?.Such a fundamental determination depends on whether the separatist armed conflictwas between a sovereign State and a non-state actor or between parties to a non-international armed conflict as recognized by the common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. This fundamental determination would establish whether violations are to be judged as human rights violations or as a humanitarian law violations.

The determination by the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights both determined that the conflict was an armed conflict. However, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the Sri Lankan Government did not make a categorical determination that it was an armed conflict. In such a background there is uncertainty as to the nature of the jurisprudence that would be developed to guide the accountability process.

The categorization as to whether the conflict was an armed conflict as per Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol II of 1977, or whether it was between a sovereign State and non-state actor would determine whether actions would be judged as violations or not. For instance, the lack of food, medical and other needs of the civilians would be a violation if it is determined that the conflict was between a State and a non-state actor but not a violation if the conflict was a non-international armed conflict as defined by common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the Additional Protocol II of 1977. Similarly,the protection of the civilians become the responsibility of the State if the conflict is between it and a non-state actor, but not a responsibility if the conflict is a non-international armed conflict because parties to a conflict are responsible for the safety of civilians under their control. Likewise, civilians who offer material supportto assistthe conflict voluntarily or not, lose their right of protection in the case of conflicts judged to be armed conflicts as per Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention or Additional Protocol II of 1977. Therefore, all charges against either party to the conflict must be judged from one of the two perspectives cited above.

It is evident from the foregoing that the establishment of context is central to the accountability process. Therefore, the legal framework and related laws need to be developed accordingly. This would be a new experience in jurisprudence for Sri Lanka. Thus far the preoccupation has been whether the judicial process is to be conducted only by Sri Lankan judges or with the “participation” of foreign Judges. Although the President and the Prime minister held different opinion at one stage both have now agreed that the process should be confined only to Sri Lankan Judges. But what about others such as prosecutors and investigators without whom the accountability process would not work?

What is evident from the foregoing is that the tasks that need to be accomplished before the accountability process could begin are not only daunting but also could entail measures that impact on existing constitutional provisions. Consequently, the body of laws that need to be developed and the institutional arrangements needed may impact on Article 4 (c) and since Article 4 has to be read with Article 3 which impacts on the sovereignty of the People,institutions and laws relating to the accountability may need a 2/3 approval of Parliament and a referendum by the People.

Since such an approval would depend on the substance and nature of the jurisprudence developed, civil society needs to be vigilant if they are to prevent the type of fiasco that was associated with the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill due to sheer negligence. The Government may have won a battle in getting the OMP Bill passed, but the war would lie in its implementation. For instance, a considerable number of the missing have assumed new identities. Under Article 13 (1) (b) of the OMP Bill information relating to the whereabouts of such persons could be provided to the relatives ONLY with the consent of the person concerned. Since most of those who want to be counted as missing would not want their new identities revealed, the families of the so called “missing” would know that the person is alive but legally they would be in limbo not knowing how to resolve issues relating assets, marital issues, inheritance etc. . of the “missing” person. Would the relatives of such persons be entitled to reparations or receive certificates of absence? Each of these situations would give rise to a plethora of fundamental rights cases. If such situations are to be prevented civil society needs to be extremely vigilant when it comes accountability related issues because of the many faceted imperatives involved.


The establishment of an Office of Missing Persons is the first leg in the transitional justice journey. The legislation associated with the OMP was presented as a Bill when in fact it should have been presented as a Constitutional Amendment. The opportunity to challenge the procedure adopted was missed due to lack of vigilance. The procedural violations associated with the Bill make its legitimacy questionable. However the second leg in the transitional journey is the legislation pertaining to the judicial mechanism to address accountability.

The legislation pertaining to the judicial mechanism is of particular significance because any alleged violations that were committed by security forces of Sri Lanka and the LTTE would be judged by this legislation. Therefore, the institutions and the jurisprudence needed for the judicial process has to be either based on whether the conflict was a separatist armed conflict as recognized by common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the Additional protocol II of 1977, or as an conflict between a sovereign State and a non-state actor. If the determination categorizes the conflict as a separatist armed conflict humanitarian laws would govern, while a categorization that the conflict was between a State and anon-state actor would call for human rights laws.

Either determination would require Sri Lanka to develop new legislation since existing jurisprudence does not address issues relating to human rights and humanitarian law violations relating to conflict.However, it has to be understood that outcomes of the judicial process would depend on how this body of jurisprudence developed by the legislature is applied or interpreted by those in the judiciary associated with the judicial mechanism. Therefore, both branches, the legislature and the judiciary should share responsibility for the outcomes of the judicial process. Since the notion that the truth would set us free depends on whether we have the strength to handle the truth, there is a strong possibility that final outcomes could further polarize the communities.

These initiatives are needed because of a Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva at the instigation of the USA. While the mandate of the UNHRCrequires it to protect and prevent human rights violations President Obama has stated that preventing mass atrocities “is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America” (The Washington Post, Editorial,August17, 2016). Therefore, the UNHRC and the US should jointly share responsibility for not prevailing on the LTTE to release the civilians trapped for the purpose of using them as a human shield, thereby forcing the civilians to endure the final stages of the conflict.

2 Responses to “Usurping powers: Legislature v. Judiciary”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks again to Mr Ladduwahetty for amply exposing the –

    Lack of ACCOUNTABILITY from Exec PM Ranil Wickremasinghe (appointed to post of Exec PM because the ‘west wants it so’ said Pres MS !)
    Lack of ACCOUNTABILITY from the UNHRC, and
    Lack of ACCOUNTABILITY from the US

    It is hard to believe all this, and also the fact that Sri Lanka is a Member State of 53 international organisations and is SE Asia’s oldest Democracy, being taken for a ride !

    What does this mean ?
    It means that the People of Lanka have been cheated in a number of ways not only by the present govt. but also by international bodies & some foreign countries, and appears to have lost the Sovereignity of their country too, isn’t it ?

    Democracy laughed at ?

  2. plumblossom Says:

    This Is How The Office Of The Missing Persons (Which Will Become A Bogus ‘Evidence’ Manufacturing Machine) Manufacture Bogus ‘Evidence’ Of 40,000 Missing Persons To Try Our Brave Armed Forces For So Called War Crimes They Never, Ever Committed

    In the Missing Persons Act, a relative or a friend can make an official inquiry (but a totally bogus inquiry) from the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) by email inquiring as to the whereabouts of their relative or friend.

    There are over 8 lakhs to 10 lakhs Tamil diaspora asylum seekers (actually economic migrants), a vast majority of who support the separatist terrorist LTTE and its aim of a separate state. If even 40,000 of these Tamil diaspora who support the separatist terrorist LTTE write bogus emails to the OMP inquiring the whereabouts of their friend or relative (but this friend or relative is actually living alongside them in these countries i.e. the US, UK, EU, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, India etc.) these inquiries will officially be accepted by the OMP as 40,000 missing persons.

    According to the provisions of the OMP Act, even if the OMP inquires after these let us say 40,000 and finds out that these are all bogus inquiries and that all these 40,000 persons are actually living alongside the inquirer i.e. their relative or friend and these complaints about these persons being missing are all bogus, the missing persons, now found by the OMP, can request that their whereabouts not be revealed to their relative or friend or be made public. So officially these 40,000 persons will still be missing!!!

    Then the OMP will use these bogus 40,000 missing persons (who are actually living comfortably in the US, UK, EU, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, India etc.) as manufactured ‘evidence’ that war crimes happened in Sri Lanka (and all these bogus inquirers will state that these persons went missing during the 2006-2009 period) and our Sri Lankan Armed Forces will be persecuted for committing war crimes that they never, ever committed by a judicial process using these bogus email inquiries.

    The Missing Persons Act states specifically that if the missing person who is now found requests that the fact that they are now found not be revealed to the public that person will remain as missing as far as the OMP is concerned. That is how the OMP will manufacture bogus ‘evidence’ of 40,000 missing persons so that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces can be persecuted for committing bogus war crimes.

    The OMP emails cannot be checked by any outside body as stated in the Act since all evidence (almost all bogus) gathered by the OMP remains confidential. The OMP cannot be taken to the Supreme Court on this issue. However the OMP should absolutely and immediately be taken to the Supreme Court regarding what has been written above which is what would happen when this OMP is set up.

    The OMP will become a bogus ‘evidence’ manufacturing machine which will gather such bogus inquiries via email from those members of the Tamil diaspora who are supportive of the LTTE terrorists and who will send bogus email inquiries by their thousands. All these bogus inquiries (of people who are actually living in the US, UK, EU, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, India etc.) will then be misused as missing person inquiries.

    I did not realize that the Sinhalese were this stupid as to allow such a process within the Missing Persons Act which can be blatantly misused in order to manufacture bogus ‘evidence’ like this. The OMP process is not transparent, it will happen in total secrecy, no one in Sri Lanka will be able to question it, not our police, not our courts, not our Sri Lankan citizens, nobody. All the OMP will do is gather bogus email ‘evidence’ such as described above which will then be misused as missing person inquiries to try the Sri Lankan Armed Forces for bogus war crimes that they never, ever committed.

    The OMP process as described above must be stopped immediately. If a relative or a friend really and genuinely wants to find out about their genuinely missing relative or friend (i.e. perished LTTE terrorist), they can make a complaint to the OMP in person in public. This is the only way that Sri Lanka and the world will know that their inquiry is genuine. This was the methodology followed by the earlier Paranagama Commission which then received 23,000 complaints from relatives or friends of the missing person (i.e. perished LTTE terrorist or our perished Sri Lankan Forces soldiers) but they made their complaint in public in person to the commission. This is the only way to ensure authenticity and make the process transparent since this happens in the public arena. However, even with such safeguards, even some of those complaints may have been bogus.

    The OMP should be stopped immediately since it is not a transparent process at all as described above but a totally secretive process where no one and nobody can request to be provided an opportunity to even peruse, investigate or look at the email inquiries received by the OMP. If the UNHRC, the US, UK, EU, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, India, the TNA and the separatist terrorists genuinely want to find out about perished LTTE terrorists, this Yahapalanaya Government could expand and extend the scope of the already set up Paranagama Commission in order to make such inquiries. This process should be totally following Sri Lankan Law, within Sri Lankan jurisdiction, paid for totally by the Sri Lankan Government only and with only Sri Lankan citizens appointed as commission members and investigators. In fact the entire staff should be composed of Sri Lankan citizens only. The process should be a totally domestic process with no interference or input whatsoever from foreign countries. Most importantly, all complaints should be made in person by relatives and friends in public if their complaint is genuine.

    The Missing Persons Act is totally dangerous as pointed out above and should be dismissed totally as it is highly dangerous and a totally secretive process as described above designed and set up to manufacture bogus ‘evidence’ against the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

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