Supreme Court hears FR petitions | Sunday Observer

Supreme Court hears FR petitions

24 May, 2020

The fundamental rights petitions calling to annul the June 20 general election and the Gazette issued by the President dissolving Parliament was heard throughout last week before a five- member Bench headed by the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya.

The counsel made submissions for the Supreme Court to decide if it will grant leave to proceed for the petitions.The petitions filed by seven parties, cited the Election Commission, the President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundera, Director General Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe and the Attorney General Dappula de Livera as respondents, among others.

Making no secret about the cracks within the Election Commission, its members were represented by two separate counsel at the hearings. Saliya Peiris, PC represented two of its members, Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya and member Nalin Abeysekera while member Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole was represented by Counsel Asthika Devendra.

On the fourth day of the hearing on Thursday Romesh de Silva PC, who represented President’s Secretary P.B. Jayasundara in a lengthy submission said the Election Commission must devise a method to hold the election in keeping with Covid-19 guidelines without resorting to postpone the election further, by which action it will delay people’s right to appoint a new and stable Parliament.

He said the Gazette issued by the President to dissolve Parliament, on March 2 cannot be annulled or challenged by any party since it has been done under Article 32(2) of the Constitution. He added that after the dissolution the term of Parliament ends and there was no validity in the argument that if elections are not held on time, the dissolution of Parliament will become void.

Continuing his submissions on the fifth day on Friday, President’s Counsel De Silva questioned the Court as to how the inability of the Elections Commission to hold the general election can invalidate the proclamation issued by the President dissolving Parliament. He asked Court not to grant leave to proceed with the case since the petitions, filed after the expiration of the stipulated time allowed to file such action, had no legal basis.

The five-member Bench which heard the petitions comprised Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justices Buwaneka Aluwihare, Sisira Abrew, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda, The case was fixed for support on May 18.

Attorney Charitha Gunaratna, the first party to file a petition against the general election, withdrew his case on Wednesday when the counsel appearing for the Election Commission informed Court that there was no possibility to hold the election on June 20 as scheduled. PC Saliya Peiris said that his client (the EC) required 9 -12 weeks, to lay the ground work, from the day the Health authorities give the green light to hold election.

Gunaratna’s counsel M.A.Sumanthiran said since the above was his client’s intention they no longer saw the necessity to continue the case.

The other six petitions filed by Samagi Jana Balawegaya General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Jathika Hela Urumaya Leader Patali Champika, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem, New Lanka Freedom Party Leader Kumara Welgama, Democratic United National Front Party General Secretary Ariyawansha Dissanayake, Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives, P.Saravanamuttu and Editor Victor Ivan were taken up on Thursday for the fourth consecutive day.

Counsel Wijeyadasa Rajapaksha representing the SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said the old Parliament can be reconvened only in case of an emergency and the present situation being a health matter did not permit such action.

He said the interim Government had been effectively controlling the Covid-19 health issue with the existing laws and there was no need for Parliament to enact new laws.

The Counsel appearing for the Election Commission pointed out that no one at the time objected to accepting nomination on March 17,18 and 19 which were gazetted by Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon as special public holidays to control the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under Section 24 (3) of Parliamentary Elections Act the Commission rescheduled the election for June 20, taking into consideration the situation in the country and Health Ministry advice.

The counsel appearing for Election Commission member Prof. Hoole informed Court that however, his client’s opinion differed with regard to the acceptance of nominations on special public holidays. He said the Commission decided to accept the nominations on the said three days on the assumption that they were special holidays, as announced by the Government Information Director. But later they were gazetted as special public holidays and had the Commission known about this earlier, it may not have accepted nominations on these days.

The Chief Justice asked the counsel if it was his personal opinion or the opinion of the Commission. The counsel said that it was his client’s opinion. At this point Additional Solicitor General Indika Devamuni de Silva representing the Attorney General said the majority view of the members will be accepted as the opinion of the Election Commission, hence there was no need to express individual opinions of its members.

The President dissolved Parliament on March 2 this year and the Election Commission scheduled parliamentary polls for April 25 at the outset but was later postponed for June 20 due to the prevailing health crisis.