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Landmark Supreme Court Judgment Holds Former Sri Lankan Leaders Responsible for Economic Crisis

In a historic ruling on November 14, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka found former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and several other high-profile figures guilty of violating public trust and breaching Article 12 (1) of the Constitution. The judgment, a result of a Fundamental Rights Petition (SC/FRA/212/2022) filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) and co-petitioners, accused the respondents of mismanaging the economy, leading to a severe economic crisis in the country.

Key observations made by the Court include:

  • The respondents’ conduct directly contributed to the economic crisis.
  • They failed to take necessary actions to mitigate the negative impact on the economy.
  • Public officers are obligated to act in the best interest of the country and uphold public trust.
  • The respondents cannot evade responsibility by labeling their decisions as policy choices.

The petitioners, including TISL, Chandra Jayaratne, Jehan CanagaRetna, and Julian Bolling, argued that the named respondents were directly responsible for the unsustainability of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt, leading to a hard default on foreign loan repayments and exacerbating the economic downturn. The petition also claimed violations of citizens’ fundamental rights, including equality, freedom of expression, and the right to information.

A five-judge bench, led by Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, delivered a split 4-1 decision, with Justice Priyantha Jayawardena dissenting. The Court, acknowledging the public interest nature of the petition, declined to order compensation for the petitioners beyond the incurred costs.

The respondents were accused of contributing to shortages of essential goods such as food, medicine, fuel, and LP Gas, adversely affecting the entire population. The economic crisis was attributed to factors such as tax breaks, failure to reverse them, servicing sovereign debt without restructuring, and a refusal to seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Chandaka Jayasundera, PC, represented the petitioners in court along with a legal team comprising S.A. Beling, Chinthaka Fernando, Sayuri Liyanasuriya, and Manisha Dissanayake.

Read the judgment here

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