* Opposition members of an impeachment panel withdraw
* Chief justice asks for independent impeachment panel
* US urges Sri Lanka to ensure transparency, rule of law
By Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's opposition walked out
of parliament on Friday protesting what it called unfair
impeachment proceedings against the country's chief justice and
its party members left the select committee which is carrying
out the investigation.
The opposition's reaction came a day after Shirani
Bandaranayake, Sri Lanka's first female head of the Supreme
Court, withdrew from the impeachment process because, her
lawyers said, she had lost faith in the proceedings.
Tension has risen between the judiciary and government since
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling party filed a motion
against Bandaranayake in parliament last month.
The United States, the United Nations and the Commonwealth
have raised concern about the process and have called on the
government to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
Parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, the president's elder
brother, appointed an 11-member select committee, seven of them
from the ruling party, to investigate 14 charges against
Bandaranayake ranging from not disclosing her wealth to
The four opposition members on the impeachment committee
withdrew from it on Friday citing injustice and the entire
opposition party left the parliamentary chamber en masse.
"We can't be party to injustice," John Amaratunga, an
opposition legislator in the impeachment panel told reporters.
He said the ruling party members of the panel had rejected
opposition requests for a fair time for the chief justice to
The panel also rejected a chief justice request to allow
Commonwealth and local observers, her lawyers said.
The absence of the chief justice and the four opposition
members will not stop the panel proceeding with its
investigation and impeaching Bandaranayake if she is found
guilty as the quorum needed is only six, a panel member said.
On Thursday, Bandaranayake's lawyers said the impeachment
committee handed over hundreds of documents and asked the chief
justice to prepare for the trial with less than 24 hours notice
and rejected her request to cross-examine the witnesses.
"It is regrettable that the committee is ignoring salient
provisions of the law and requirements of natural justice in the
conduct of this inquiry," Amaratunga said.
Bandaranayake's lawyers on Friday requested the speaker to
appoint an impartial committee to continue the impeachment.
"In the interests of the judiciary, country, and client, we
request that our client be given the opportunity of vindicating
herself before an independent and impartial tribunal," the legal
firm appearing on behalf of the justice requested in a letter.
Minister of Higher Education S.B. Dissanayake said the walk
outs by the opposition and chief justice were tactical moves to
destabilise the parliament select committee proceedings.
The United States on Friday raised concerns over the
"We urge that the government of Sri Lanka and the
parliamentary select committee investigating the chief justice
ensure any investigation be conducted transparently, guarantee
due process, and is conducted in accordance with the rule of
law," the U.S. embassy in Colombo said in a statement.
Bandaranayake recently came under criticism from government
supporters for ruling against a bid by the central government to
take control of an 80 billion rupees ($614.20
million)development budget, saying it had to be approved by nine
The ruling angered the government and its backers, some of
whom accused the judiciary of overstepping its authority before
moving the impeachment motion.
(Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Jon Hemming)