Sri Lanka court stops impeachment of top judge

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka's Court of Appeal on Monday ordered parliament to drop its impeachment of the country's top judge, amid international concern for judicial independence on the island.

The court issued an order quashing a report by ruling party lawmakers who found Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake guilty of financial and professional misconduct over a month ago.

"The court granted the writ sought by the chief justice (against parliament)," a court official told reporters outside a packed courthouse.

"This means parliament cannot legally proceed with the impeachment."

He said the court declared that the Parliamentary Select Committee that probed the chief justice was illegal and that the legislature could not take any action against CJ Bandaranayake on the basis of its flawed findings.

The ruling was widely expected after the Supreme Court four days ago ruled that the committee had no powers to find a judge guilty.

CJ Bandaranayake, 54, had angered the ruling party after recent constitutional decisions that went against the government. She has also resisted pressure to step down. Unless removed legally she could remain in office for 11 more years.

The United Nations as well as international rights groups have raised concern over moves by President Mahinda Rajapakse's government to remove the chief justice. The impeachment is seen as politically motivated.

President Rajapakse has tightened his grip on power after crushing Tamil rebels in 2009 following a major military offensive that has sparked international allegations of rights abuses.

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