Although Sri Lanka's colonial heritage fostered a tradition of judicial freedoms, this autonomy has been compromised since independence by constitutional changes designed to limit the courts' control over the president and by the chief executive's power to declare states of emergency. Also, Parliament's willingness to approve legislation, such as the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act, vested the government in the late 1980s with broad powers to deal with subversives, or those deemed subversive, in an essentially extralegal manner. Observers in the late 1980s reported that the act facilitated widespread abuses of power, including the systematic torture of detainees, because it recognized the admissibility as evidence of confessions to the police not made in the presence of a magistrate.
Under the Constitution, the highest court is the Supreme Court, headed by a chief justice and between six and ten associate justices. Supreme and High Court justices are appointed by the president. Superior Court justices can be removed on grounds of incompetence or misdemeanor by a majority of Parliament, whereas High Court justices can be removed only by a judicial service commission consisting of Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review; it can determine whether an act of Parliament is consistent with the principles of the Constitution and whether a referendum must be taken on a proposal, such as the 1982 extension of Parliament's life by six years. It is also the final court of appeal for all criminal or civil cases.
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