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Reforms Since 1947


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The Constitution of Ceylon when she attained Independence on 4th February 1948, commonly referred to as the Soulbury Constitution, was contained in the following documents:

1. The Ceylon Independence Act, 1947

2. The Orders in Council of 1946 and 1947 known collectively as the Ceylon (Constitution and Independence) Orders in Council, 1947.

This Constitution provided a parliamentary form of Government for Ceylon. The Parliament consisted of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and the two Houses, namely the Senate and the House of Representatives exercising legislative power. The Executive consisted of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The House of Representatives consisted of 101 Members, of which 95 were elected by universal suffrage and 6 were nominated by the Governor-General. The membership of the House of Representatives was not fixed for all time. The Constitution provided for Delimitation Commissions to be appointed after every census, so that the number of Members varied with changes in population. The 1959 Delimitation Commission increased the elected membership to 151. The term of office of the House of Representatives was five years.

The Senate consisted of 30 Members, 15 of whom were elected by the House of Representatives and 15 nominated by the Governor-General. One-third of the Senators were to retire every second year. The Senate was abolished on 2nd October 1971.

The Constitution provided for a Judicial Service Commission and a Public Service Commission. Minority rights were safeguarded by Article 29(2) of the Constitution.

A Joint Select Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives was set up on 10th January 1958 on a Motion moved by Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to consider the revision of the Constitution. The Committee issued two reports in which they outlined certain proposals but could not conclude their work on account of the Prorogation of Parliament on 23rd May 1959. The Committee was not reappointed.

The Dudley Senanayake Government also appointed a Joint Select Committee on 22nd April 1967 to consider the revision of the Constitution. This Committee too issued two reports, the second report on 13th June 1968 in the House of Representatives, but could not conclude its work as the Committee was not reappointed after Prorogation on 22nd June 1968.

Amendments to the 1946 Constitution:-

Act No.



29 of 1954


To amend section 29(2) to enable enactment of Act Nos.35 & 36 of 1954

35 of 1954 


To increase the number of Members to 105 for a specified period and to terminate the services of the then existing Delimitation Commissioners.

36 of 1954  


To make provision for the election of Members of the House of Representatives to represent persons registered as citizens of Ceylon under the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act No.3 of 1949.

4 of 1959


To appoint a Delimitation Commission; to amend section 47 regarding delegation of power to Parliamentary Secretaries and to repeal Act Nos. 35 &36 of 1954.

71 of 1961


 To include "Election judge" under section 55.

8 of 1964


To place the post of Commissioner of Elections in the Constitution and to make financial provision to conduct elections.

29 of 1970


To permit public officers (other than those in specified categories) to contest elections, and to make them eligible to be elected or

nominated to the Senate.

36 of 1971  


To abolish the Senate.

The United Front Government, which came to power in May 1970, had in their election manifesto sought a mandate from the people to adopt a new Constitution. A new Republican Constitution, drafted by the Members of Parliament functioning as a Constituent Assembly, was promulgated on 22nd May 1972. This Constitution provided for a unicameral legislature named the National State Assembly, a President as nominal head and a Cabinet of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister responsible to the National State Assembly. Sovereignty was vested entirely in the National State Assembly and its term of office was six years. Members of the last House of Representatives formed the first National State Assembly. The number of Members in the National State Assembly was to be determined by the Delimitation Commission in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. There was no provision for Appointed Members.

  •  The term of off ice of the President was 4 years and he was appointed by the Prime Minister.

  • The country was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka (meaning 'Resplendent Island').

  • The Constitution contained a declaration of fundamental rights and freedoms. A special Constitutional Court was provided to test the constitutionality of legislation before enactment. There was no provision for a Judicial Service Commission and a Public Service Commission.

  •  This Constitution was amended on 11th February 1 975 to change the basis of delimitation of constituencies from 75,000 persons per electorate to 90,000 persons.

When the UNP came to power in July 1977 with a five-sixths majority, the second amendment to the 1972 Constitution was passed on 4th October 1977 to bring in the Executive Presidency, and Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, the then Prime Minister, became the first Executive President on 4th February 1978. Before the 1977 General Election the UNP also sought a mandate from the people to adopt a new Constitution. A Select Committee was appointed to consider the revision of the Constitution. The new Constitution, promulgated on the 7th of September 1978, provided for a unicameral Parliament with legislative power and an Executive President. The term of office of the President and of Parliament is six years. It also introduced a Proportional Representation system. The Parliament was to consist of 196 Members, but this was later increased to 225 by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The Constitution provided for an independent Judiciary and guaranteed Fundamental Rights, providing for any aggrieved person to invoke the Supreme Court for any violation of his rights. The Constitution also provided for a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) who could investigate public grievances against Government Institutions and State officers and give redress. It also introduced a Proportional Representation system, anti-defection laws, and Referenda on certain Bills and on issues of national importance.



Subject matter

First Amendment


Dealing with jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal

Second Amendment


Dealing with resignations and expulsion of Members of the First Parliament

Third Amendment


To enable the President to seek re-election after 4years; vacation of office of President

Fourth Amendment


Extension of term of First Parliament

Fifth Amendment


To provide for by-election when a vacancy is not filled by the party

Sixth Amendment


Prohibition against violation of territorial integrity

Seventh Amendment


Dealing with Commissioners of the High Court and the creation of Kilinochchi District

Eighth Amendment


Appointment of President's Counsel

Ninth Amendment


Relating to public officers qualified to contest elections

Tenth Amendment


To repeal section requiring two-thirds majority for Proclamation under Public Security Ordinance

Eleventh Amendment


To provide for a Fiscal for the whole Island; also relating to sittings of the Court of Appeal

Twelfth Amendment


Thirteenth Amendment


To make Tamil an official language and English a link Language, and for the establishment of Provincial Councils

Fourteenth Amendment


Extension of immunity of President; increase of number of Members to 225; validity of Referendum; appointment of Delimitation Commission for the division of electoral districts into zones; proportional representation and the cut-off point to be 1/8th of the total polled; apportionment of the 29 National List Members

Fifteenth Amendment


to repeal Article 96A to eliminate zones and to reduce the cut-off point to 1/20th

Sixteenth Amendment


to make provision for Sinhala and Tamil to be Languages of Administration and Legislation

Seventeenth Amendment


to make provisions for the Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions.

There was another Third Amendment to the Constitution passed by the Parliament on 6th January 1981 to make provision for two Members for one and the same electorate (Kalawana in the Ratnapura District) which did not become law as the Supreme Court declared that the amendment should be approved at a Referendum. The Twelfth Amendment was a Private Member's Bill presented on 25th September 1987 to make provision for the Prime Minister to act for the President in his absence. The Bill did not go through all the stages to become law. The Seventeenth Amendment was presented on 14th November 1990 to amend sections on Fundamental Rights, but the Bill was withdrawn on 23rd July 1991.

On 17th August 1993 a Select Committee was appointed to consider the provisions of the Constitution and to make recommendations for amendments and changes to the Constitution. Though the committee was expected to conclude its work within a year, it could not be completed as the Parliament was dissolved on 24th June 1994.

The new Government also appointed a Select Committee on 22nd September 1994 to review the provisions of the Constitution and to make recommendations for repeal, amendment, addition or replacement of the Constitution. On 24th October 1997 Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, the Chairman of the Select Committee, presented in Parliament the Government’s proposals on Constitutional Reforms.

In August 1991 a Select Committee was appointed on a Private Members motion moved by Mr. Mangala Moonesinghe, to recommend ways and means of achieving peace and stability. The Report of this Committee was presented in Parliament on 12th November 1993. This Committee recommended devolution of power, which entailed Constitutional reform.

On 3rd August, 2000. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presented in Parliament a new bill to repeal and replace the present constitution. It was after extensive multi-party talks and agreement on the 1997 October proposals.

Despite a favourable response from the minority parties the August 2000 bill for a new constitution did not see the light of day because the UNP parliamentary group decided to withdraw from the debate.

The debate on the draft constitution was postponed on account of over 40 amendments proposed by the Tamil parties while a large number of additional Members requested an opportunity to address the House. However, the August 3 Constitution Bill automatically lapsed when Parliament was dissolved on 18th August, 2000, few days prior to the expiry of its six-year term.

On July 10, 2001 President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga issued a proclamation for a referendum on 21st August, 2001 to ascertain the public viewpoint for a new Constitution. The President invoked the provisions of Article 86, which authorizes her to submit any matter of national importance, in her opinion, directly to the People.

Having given serious consideration to the representations and views expressed by the religious dignitaries, religious organisations, political parties, intellectuals, professional bodies, trade unions and other similar organisations, the President later decided to postpone the referendum for 18th October, 2001. Eventually the planned plebiscite was cancelled on 2nd September, 2001.

Another significant achievement is the 17th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution. In a landmark vote, Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed a bill on September 25, 2001 by a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution to establish independent commissions to administer the Police, Judiciary, Public Service and Elections.

The 18th Amendment was presented to Parliament on September 18, 2002. The bill is a further amendment to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which provides for the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka.

The 19th Amendment presented to Parliament on September 19, 2002 basically to restrict the President's power to dissolve parliament after it completes one year and to enable Parliament Members to vote according to their conscience, without being expelled by political parties.

The both amendments to the Constitution were been challenged before the Supreme Court in terms of Article 121 (1) of the constitution.

The Speaker announced the Supreme Court determination on the 18th and 19th Amendment to the Constitution on October 22, 2002. The Supreme Court determined on the 19th amendment, Clause 6 of the Bill that enables Parliament Members to vote according to their conscience, without being expelled by political parties, cannot be validly enacted by Parliament, and also clauses 2, 3, 4 and 5 have to be passed by special majority and approved by the people at a referendum. Further, Supreme Court has made a suggestion on Article 3 by removing the period of one year of the dissolving Parliament by the President and substituting that with a period not exceeding three years if necessary with a two third majority.

(Source: Golden Jubilee of Sri Lanka Independence - 50 Years of Parliament - Parliament Secretariat Publication, February 1998)