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It's parliament vs judiciary in Bangladesh after repeal of 16th amendment

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 11 August 2017, 21:18 IST
(Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

A recent verdict by the Bangladeshi Supreme Court has fired up the already volatile political scenario in the neighbouring country. The judgement scrapped the 16th amendment which gave Parliament right to impeach top judges.

This has pitted the judiciary against the ruling Awami League. Several of the party's leaders have already suggested that this is the result of a conspiracy.

The battle between the Awami League and the Supreme Court, meanwhile, has given its arch rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) another reason to corner the government.

The opposition, which chose to boycott the 2014 elections, is ecstatic over the verdict. They have hailed it as 'Magna Carta' and distributed sweets. BNP had criticised the 16th amendment as a ploy by the ruling Awami League to control the judiciary. The SC verdict upholds an earlier ruling by the High Court which had scrapped the 16th Amendment.

The Awami League's reaction

The Awami League claims that the judgement undermines the primacy of Parliament in a democracy. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reportedly directed party leaders to hit the ground to build public opinion against the verdict even as she reportedly asked them to be careful of the conspiracies against the government.

“When everyone is accountable to parliament, there is no reason why judges should be an exception to this,” former Chief Justice and Chairman of the Law Commission Khairul Haque reportedly said.

“I want to say very humbly that the grounds on which the honourable Appellate Division [of the SC] cancelled the 16th amendment are not acceptable to us,” Law Minister Anisul Haque reportedly said on the verdict.

The Awami League government was in the process of bringing in a law which would allow judges the investigate misconduct against their colleagues as a first step before a report is sent to the Speaker of the House.

Khairul Haque was even more scathing in his observation on the verdict which restores the Supreme Judicial Council which was abolished in September 2014.

“Article 1 of the constitution talks about a people's republic, but this verdict is taking the country towards a judges' republic,” Khairul Haque was quoted as saying.

He explained that the verdict would call for an amendment of Constitution since the provision of the SJC is not there in the constitution. And that the Chief Justice’s assertion of the need for scrapping the 16th amendment to restore the independence of judiciary were not correct since there were enough provisions in Constitution to guarantee that the judiciary remained free of political interference. The SJC had been instituted during the military regime of General Ziaur Rehman, the founder of BNP.

“The Supreme Court will correct the members of parliament if they make mistakes, but where will we go if the Supreme Court judges do any wrong,” the former chief justice reportedly asked.

The ruling party leaders are of the view that the scrapping of the 16th amendment would give the judges a free run. Khairul Haque, for example, brought up an incident reported in the media where the SC wrote to the anti-corruption commission asking it to stop proceedings in a case involving a retired judge.

“How can we rely on them [SJC members]? We cannot rely on the Supreme Judicial Council. We have confusion as transparency may not be there,” Khairul Haque said.

“I think the Supreme Judicial Council doesn't have much to do with independence of the judiciary,” he added.

Unsavoury comments

Meanwhile, it is not just the verdict that has the ruling party up in arms, but also the comments made by Chief Justice Surender Kumar Sinha.

Sinha commented on democracy, politics, martial law, the Election Commission, good governance, corruption and independence of the judiciary.

He also made remarks like “no nation, no country is made of, or by one person,” which has been taken as a veiled reference to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, beside reportedly speaking of how MPs are immature.

“If the chief justice says the current parliament is immature, I have to say the Supreme Court judges are immature as they unnecessarily used derogatory and unparliamentarily language about the parliament members in the verdict,” Khairul Haque said.

The Bangladeshi Law Minister pointed out how the government has decided to make a move to to get the objectionable comments expunged from the judgement.

Meanwhile, the BNP has demanded that the Awami League government resign after the verdict. “The verdict of the Appellate Division is a clear statement that there is no democracy and human rights in the country,” BNP secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir reportedly said.

Moudud Ahmed, another senior BNP leader sees nothing irrelevant in the remarks made by the chief justice. "Because the judiciary is not isolated. It's connected to society, politics, parliament, constitution, state, everything," he was quoted by a Bangladeshi paper.

First published: 11 August 2017, 21:18 IST