Expulsion of dissident MPs "not valid in law" -supreme court

[TamilNet, Thursday, 03 February 2000, 11:22 GMT]
Supreme Court today held that the expulsion of five Parliamentarians from the United National Party (UNP) was not valid in law as the rules of natural justice of affording them a fair hearing was not made available to them.

Dr.Sarath Amunugama, Wijepala Mendis, Susil Moonesinghe, Nanda Mathew and Chula Bandara were the petitioners who challenged their expulsion from UNP.

The Bench comprised Acting Chief Justice Dr.Amerasinghe, Justice Ameer, Ismail and Justice Shiranie Bandaranayake.

The Judgement stated as follows:- The respondents submitted that the rules of natural justice were in the circumstances of the case excluded by practical considerations. The election campaign was on and it was imperative that the cohesiveness of the party was safeguarded. The petitioners were not only expressing their open support for the rival candidate, they were also attempting to persuade others at grass roots level to vote against the party. Immediate action was called for.

Urgency has in certain circumstances, been regarded as permitting a departure from the need to give a hearing before action is taken. A public authority may need to seize and destroy bad meat exposed for sale or to order the removal to hospital of a person with an infectious disease without a hearing.

I am of the view that the respondents have failed to establish that the expulsion fell within the category of extraordinary, urgent circumstances recognized by courts of law.

The content of fair procedures is flexible. The so-called rules of natural justice are not engraved on tablets of stone.

The principles of fairness are not to be applied by rote in every situation. What fairness demands depends on the context of the decision.

The petitioners were Members of Parliament and expulsion could have led to losing their seats. The very gravity of the matter required that at least a limited hearing was given to the petitioners before a decision was taken to expel them.

The right of an Member of Parliament to relief under Article 99 (13) (a) is a legal right and forms part of his constitutional rights as an MP. If his complaint is that he has been expelled from the membership of his party in breach of the rules of natural justice, he will ordinarily be entitled to relief; and this court may not determine such expulsion to be valid unless there are overwhelming reasons warranting such decision. Such decision would be competent only in the most exceptional circumstances permitted by law and in furtherance of the public good the need for which should be beyond doubt.If there is any doubt about such matters, the expulsion will be struck down.the Order concluded.

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