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SC bench to be expanded from 11 to 17; CA 12 to 19

The Government is fast tracking the expansion of the Supreme Court bench from 11 justices to 17 under an amendment that was moved at the Committee Stage of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the Sunday Times learns.

The Court of Appeal bench will be increased  from the present 12 justices to 19.

Justice Minister Ali Sabry told the Sunday Times that the Parliamentary Council would have to be put in place first to facilitate this expansion of the country’s appellate courts.

“The Parliamentary Council has to be established first before the implementation of other clauses. We will start the process of implementing the 20th Amendment,” Minister Sabry said.

Before the 20th Amendment was passed in Parliament with an overwhelming majority on October 22, Minister Sabry had introduced a new provision at the Committee Stage to increase the number of superior court judges.

This particular amendment was not part of the gazetted bill of 20th Amendment which was challenged before the Supreme Court by as many as 39 petitioners.

Defending the substantial increase of judges to the Superior Courts, Minister Sabry said the decision was taken considering the  backlog of pending cases at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal for years since no changes were made to the benches of the two Courts since the adoption of 1978 Constitution which clearly defined the number of judges on the benches.

“Unlike in India, where the number of judges to Superior Courts is increased periodically based on the requirement since it is not a subject binding with the Constitution, we have the same number of judges in our superior courts for some 42 years.

At least 10,000 cases are pending in the two courts for years. It is humanly impossible to hear them with the current number of judges,” the Minister added.

Seventy nine judges are currently serving in the High Court and 14 of them are to retire within the next three years unless they are elevated to the Court of Appeal while a total of 36 High Court judges are due to retire by 2025, Justice Ministry sources said.

Meanwhile, the Government is putting in place the Parliamentary Council with the appointment of a member to the Council which replaces the Constitutional Council brought under the 19th Amendment.

On Thursday, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane put his signature validating the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The Speaker’s Office said that the 20th Amendment was being implemented in full from Thursday (October 29) onwards.

Hours after, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda was appointed as the nominated representative of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister Office said in a statement.

The five-member Parliamentary Council consist of the Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and two Parliamentarians nominated by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Unlike the earlier ten-member Constitutional Council, the decision of the Parliamentary Council has no binding effect on the appointments by the President to top slots in government and in the judiciary since the new Council can only put forward observations.

The opposition led by Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) said the Parliamentary group is to meet tomorrow to finalise the representative of the Leader of Opposition.

The final version of the 20th Amendment, validated by the Speaker this week, is yet to be published officially. The Committee Stage amendments that were introduced are not available at the official website of Parliament when accessed yesterday.

Source : Sunday Times

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