Sri Lanka Supreme Court Invalidates Presidential Pardon

 January 21, 2024

In a landmark ruling, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has overturned a presidential pardon for the first time in its history.

The court nullified the pardon granted by former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Duminda Silva, a former MP convicted of murder.

Duminda Silva, a former parliamentarian, was sentenced to death in 2016. He and four others were found guilty of murdering Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, a fellow politician. Silva's conviction became a focal point of legal and political debates in Sri Lanka.

Despite the death penalty verdict, Sri Lanka has not carried out any executions since 1976. This moratorium has created a peculiar legal landscape where death sentences are pronounced but not implemented.

President Rajapaksa, after his election in 2019, formed a commission to probe into allegations of political victimization. This commission recommended Silva's release, leading to his controversial pardon in June 2021.

The Legal Battle and Public Reaction

The legality of Silva's pardon was soon contested. Three fundamental rights petitions were filed, challenging its constitutionality at the Supreme Court. This led to Silva's arrest in May 2022, following the suspension of his pardon by the Court.

The Supreme Court's decision, delivered on a recent Wednesday, was unanimous. It held that former President Rajapaksa had no legal or factual basis to pardon Silva.

The ruling was seen as a significant moment in the country's legal history, Jurist reported.

Supreme Court ruling said, "I have no legal basis or even a factual basis to uphold the decision made by the former President to grant a pardon to the recipient in the instant case. I hold that the said decision is arbitrary, irrational, and has been made for the reasons best known to the former President."

Broader Implications of the Ruling

This verdict not only impacts Silva's future but also sets a precedent for other controversial pardons. One such case involves Sunil Ratnayake, convicted for the Mirusuvil massacre. The decision has been hailed by legal experts and human rights activists as a step towards accountability and justice.

MP M.A. Sumanthiran commented on the ruling's significance. He emphasized its potential influence on other cases involving presidential pardons, highlighting its importance in the context of Sri Lankan justice, "The ruling is seen as a welcome development, especially with other pending challenges presidential pardons. Among these challenged pardons is the one given to Sunil Ratnayake, the individual responsible for the Mirusuvil massacre."

The Supreme Court's decision represents a pivotal moment in Sri Lanka's legal history. It underscores the judiciary's role in upholding the rule of law, especially in cases involving high-profile figures and the exercise of presidential power.

This historic judgment reaffirms the principles of justice and accountability. It sends a strong message about the limits of presidential powers, especially in matters involving criminal convictions and the dispensation of pardons.

As Sri Lanka continues to navigate its complex political and legal landscape, this decision will likely be referenced in future debates and legal interpretations. It is a reminder that even the highest offices in the land are not above the law.

The court's ruling not only addresses the specific case of Duminda Silva but also sets a precedent for how presidential pardons are scrutinized and challenged in Sri Lanka. This could have far-reaching implications for the country's legal system and its approach to justice and governance.


The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka's decision to invalidate the presidential pardon of Duminda Silva marks a significant milestone.

It reflects the judiciary's commitment to the rule of law and the separation of powers.

This ruling is likely to influence future legal proceedings and the exercise of presidential authority in Sri Lanka.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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