The Constitution, the Judiciary, and Citizens

Sri Lanka’s political crisis has now come before the courts –the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal – for arbitration. Each side engaged in the ongoing power struggle obviously expects the judiciary to rule in its favour.

Yet, there is a third party, a silent party, to this litigation that is not represented by counsel. That party are the citizens, ‘rightful masters’ of the executive, parliament and the judiciary, according to Articles 3 and 4 of the constitution, which will no doubt be cited in these cases quite fervently by the lawyers on behalf of their clients. Citizens can only expect that the judges are the counsel for the citizens and their rights, unsolicited defenders of their rights, freedom, democracy, and ultimately the democratic future of generations to come.

This unique role for Sri Lanka’s judiciary, as expected by citizens, has come into being under specific circumstances that have also provided the political context for the current constitutional controversy. The sudden removal of a sitting prime minister and appointment of a new one, and a week later, the dissolution of parliament by the head of the executive, by virtue of the authority given under general clauses of the constitution, and ignoring other substantive clauses that defined the ways in which the executive powers should really be exercised in concrete circumstances, created a massive constitutional confusion.