Gamini Lakshman Peiris

Minister Peiris misrepresents effect of 19A on presidential immunity


As long as 19A is in force, the president has to waste his time in courts… That is why immunity is needed…

Aruna | September 8, 2020



Fact Check

This statement was made in the context of the constitutional changes in the proposed 20th Amendment (20A). In his statement, Minister Peiris justifies the need for presidential immunity as provided for in the 20th Amendment, by claiming: As long as the 19th Amendment is in force, the president will have to waste his time (“rastify”) in courts.

To  evaluate this claim, FactCheck examined the provisions of Article 35 of  the Constitution as they stood before and after the 19th Amendment (19A).

A  plain reading of these provisions demonstrates that both before and  after 19A, no ordinary legal actions (whether civil or criminal in  nature) can be initiated or continued against the president while he  holds office. Therefore, legal actions in which the president was  personally involved (prior to election) stand suspended while he is  president.

The Constitution only permits limited legal challenges of the exercise of the president’s powers. Both before and after 19A, challenges of the president’s actions are brought against the attorney general,  who appears in court on behalf of the president. The president was not  and is not required to personally appear in court (in fact, he is not  even a named respondent).

Pre-19A, only the exercise of the president’s ministerial powers could be challenged. Post-19A, the exercise of any of the president’s official powers (with one exception—his  power to declare war and peace) may be challenged by way of fundamental  rights petitions. While 19A widened the scope of actions which may be  challenged, it had no effect on presidential immunity in terms of  requiring the president to attend or spend time in court. Both pre-19A  and under 19A, he was never required to do so. This position remains the  same in that regard, in terms of the published 20A Bill.

Accordingly,  20A also makes no effective change to the president’s immunity in terms  of saving time spent in court. The only significant change is that the  scope of the president’s actions that may be challenged is narrowed to  the pre-19A position.

Therefore, we classify this statement as FALSE.

**FactCheck’s  verdict is based on the most recent information that is publicly  accessible. As with every fact check, if new information becomes  available, FactCheck will revisit the assessment.


Additional Note

The minister further supported the need for immunity by stating, "The president needs to be given the mental freedom to carry out the heavy responsibility entrusted with him...” FactCheck did not evaluate this claim, as the extent of mental burdens cannot fall within the scope of a fact. However, it is possible that the minister perceived the increased scope of presidential actions that may be challenged under 19A as adding to the president’s mental burden.