From Constitutional Council to Parliamentary Council

  • Enforcing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution commenced

By Skandha Gunasekara 

The newly established Parliamentary Council (PC) is to deliberate the proposed new appointees to the Supreme Court (SC) when it meets next, while two key independent commissions would conclude their operations and disband in accordance with the newly enacted 20th Amendment to the Constitution. 

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which was enacted as law by Parliament on 22 October 2020, did away with the Constitutional Council (CC) established under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and set up what is known as the Parliamentary Council. 

“There will be only five members including the three ex-officio members, a nominee by the Prime Minister, and a nominee by the Leader of the Opposition,” Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake told The Sunday Morning

Article 41A (1) of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution stipulates: “The Chairmen and members of the commissions referred to in Schedule I to this Article and the persons to be appointed to the offices referred to in Part I and Part II of Schedule II to this Article shall be appointed to such commissions and such offices by the President. 

“In making such appointments, the President shall seek the observations of a Parliamentary Council (hereinafter referred to as “the Council”), comprising – (a) the Prime Minister; (b) the Speaker; (c) the Leader of the Opposition; (d) a nominee of the Prime Minister, who shall be a Member of Parliament; and (e) a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition, who shall be a Member of Parliament.” 

The PC, which replaced the CC, only has powers to make its observations on the nominees sent by the President. 

Moreover, it has a period of one week to submit its observations, and if failed to do so, the President could go ahead and confirm his appointments. 

“His Excellency will send us his proposals and we have to send our observations on those,” Dasanayake said. 

According to the 20th Amendment, the PC can make its observations on nominees to the Election Commission (EC), Public Service Commission, National Police Commission (NPC), Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), Finance Commission, and Delimitation Commission, as well as nominees for the positions of Chief Justice and the Judges of the SC, President and Judges of the Court of Appeal, members of the Judicial Service Commission (other than the Chairman), Attorney General, Auditor General, Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman), and Secretary General of Parliament. 

The inaugural Parliamentary Council meeting held on 4 November

Last Wednesday (4), Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Minister Douglas Devananda and Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa appointed MP Kabir Hashim as their nominees. 

Later that day, the inaugural meeting of the PC was held under the patronage of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana at the Speaker’s official residence. The meeting was attended by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Minister Devananda, MP Hashim, Secretary General of Parliament Dasanayaka, and Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff Neil Iddawela. 

The PC had discussed the framework within which it would function under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. 

It had decided to meet once again on Tuesday, 10 November to formally commence its work, parliamentary sources told The Sunday Morning

Through its last-ditch effort, the Government was able to include an amendment to the 20th Amendment draft bill at the 11th hour to reconstitute the SC bench from 11 to 17 and the Court of Appeal bench from 11 to 19 Justices. 

According to sources, the Council is to deliberate proposals by the President to the newly available vacant seats on the SC bench when it meets next on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, independent commissions – appointments to which the PC makes observations on – will continue, apart from the National Audit Commission and the National Procurement Commission. 

“The Audit Commission and the National Procurement will cease to exist in accordance with the 20th Amendment to the Constitution,” Minister of Justice Ali Sabry affirmed. 

In this regard, the 20th Amendment to the Constitution states: “Every person holding office on the day immediately preceding the date of commencement of this Act, as the Chairman or a member of – (a) the Audit Service Commission; and (b) the National Procurement Commission, 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 36 20th Amendment to the Constitution shall cease to hold such office with effect from the date of commencement of this Act: Provided that such person shall, unless he earlier resigns, dies, or is removed from office continue to exercise, perform, and discharge the powers, duties, and functions of their respective offices for a period of six months from the date of commencement of this Act, for the purpose of discharging and performing the duties and functions pending or uncompleted as at the day immediately preceding the date of commencement of this Act.” 

Accordingly, the EC, Public Service Commission, NPC, HRCSL, CIABOC, Finance Commission, and Delimitation Commission would continue to function.