Jul 26, 2018

President’s powers on death penalty cannot be transferred – Sarath N. Silva Featured

The head of state cannot transfer the powers vested in him to a committee to name prisoners and fix dates to enforce the capital punishment, ex-chief justice Sarath N. Silva has told ‘Mawbima.’

Only the president, as the head of state, is empowered to punish a prisoner with the death penalty or offer him a pardon, according to Silva.

Doing otherwise is a serious violation of the constitution, he says.

The president can handover powers, through constitutional amendments, to commissions and committees with regard to making appointments only, says the former CJ.

Parliamentary approval is needed

If a committee is given the powers to decide dates to hang a prisoner, parliamentary approval is required.

He goes onto question the motives and qualifications of the members of the committee in question.

It is tradition to obtain confidential reports from the judge, attorney general and the justice minister before enforcing the capital punishment, and it is unfair to make the decision purely on a prisoner’s conduct at the prison, says Silva.

He points out that when he was the attorney general, a committee chaired by him recommended to the then president Chandrika Kumaratunga that in the event of a divided opinion, the prisoner should be imprisoned for life, without handing him the death penalty.