'The Constitution is for the country and the people. Everyone is equal to the law. No one, including the president, the prime minister or the chief justice, is above the law,' said participants of a Boithoki roundtable hosted by Bangla Tribune at its office in Dhaka on October 19, in the backdrop of the controversies surrounding the judiciary and the chief justice. The roundtable, titled ‘Bicharer Rajniti, Rajnitir Bichar’ and moderated by journalist Munni Saha, was telecast live on ATN News and Bangla Tribune’s official Facebook page
The chief justice issue has been political since the beginning
Addressing the roundtable, Barrister Rumin Farhana, assistant international affairs secretary of BNP, said that the chief justice issue is a political one since the beginning as all the controversy and allegations against him had started right after the verdict that scrapped the 16th constitutional amendment.
She said that when the chief justice asked for a leave, his official letter had typos due to which speculations regarding the authenticity of his signature arose. “Before he went abroad, in another letter he said he was well and healthy. Also, why the accusations against him were not made when he was in the country?”
Rumin further said that many were not allowed to meet the chief justice when he was found out to be ill. “But many government officials including the law minister went and met him. Is it not political?”
She also wondered why legal actions were not taken against Justice Sinha until now if the allegations against him started rising in 2015. “These issues are leaving many with questions.”
“Since the 16th Amendment was scrapped, political leaders and activists have criticised it, for which they do not have the constitutional right,” the lawyer said. “But people have talked about this profanely. Even the Bangladesh Chhatra League president has used foul language on this issue. So, I will leave it for the people to figure out whether this is political or not. They will understand.”
Ignoring the constitution allows for abuse of power
Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Zainul Abedin said that anyone can do anything abusing power if they stop abiding the Constitution.
He said: “Politics is not being judged. It’s the judiciary that is now facing trial, which is impossible if we believe in the Constitution. Anyone can do anything if they do not abide the
Constitution. The Constitution has it well explained how a justice can be tried. Thus, there is no scope to separate the judicial from this matter.”
“The Judiciary is not a personal issue. If I face an injustice, I will certainly go to the court. However, the people are supreme. Only the people have all the power,” added Advocate Zainul, who leads the pro-BNP SCBA.
Chief justice cannot account for Tk16cr
Speaking at the roundtable, journalist Swadesh Roy said: “Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha came under the media’s spotlight within just three months of taking the office. News of corruption he was involved in was also published.
“He also has not paid taxes over a huge sum of money from what he has earned in his professional life. A total amount of Tk16 crore in his name is unaccounted for too.”
Swadesh added: “Since 1991, the country has been practicing democracy. As a result, everyone gets to criticise everything, including the judiciary. The people have rights over the country as well as the judiciary. Hence, they must criticise the judiciary.”
Judicial autocracy is dangerous
Bangla Tribune’s Head of News Harun Ur Rashid said: “In any format in this country, the justices are employees. So, they have accountability. There has to be certain rules making it mandatory to make them accountable the way the president and the prime minister are accountable. There is one law in the country, not two. Why should the law be different for the justices?”
Saying judicial autocracy was a dangerous matter, he added: “Eleven allegations have been brought against Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha right after he went abroad. I think many dramas like this are awaiting us and maybe we will have to talk more on this topic in future.”
He said: “Though the chief justice is abroad currently, the matter still remains the talk of the town. The matter did not come to an end. As a journalist, I think such dramas are waiting for us in the coming days.”
“The chief justice tried to establish judicial dictatorship through delivering (the 16th Amendment) verdict. Conscience is a relative thing. If accountability is embodied in the conscience, I disagree with the notion that only one of group people, who are judges, in the world has conscience and others do not. I do not think that my conscience is less than that of a justice in any way. Corruption allegations have been raised against a justice at least. So, I do not believe that conscience belongs to the judges alone, not to the masses,” Harun Ur Rashid added.
He continued: “Comparing to the standard of the people of Bangladesh, the judiciary cannot be much advanced. There is a common saying that our lawmakers are ineligible with less education. But they are still our representatives.
“I always say that I will remain accountable to the one who has been elected. But it cannot happen that I will be accountable to myself only. It is arbitrariness in any mean. I have to be accountable to others.”
The person who put a stop to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s letters against graft charges does not have the right to hold onto the post he is in, Harun observed.
There has been controversy since Justice Sinha joined the judiciary
Barrister Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury Nowfel, one of the organising secretaries of Awami League, said that controversy had surrounded the judiciary right after Chief Justice Sinha took office.
Nowfel said: “We do not want to politicise the judiciary. But we need to make sure that the judiciary is held accountable to the public as we are a democratic nation. After the country achieved independence, it was said that every state organ would maintain accountability. However, if someone says, ‘I will be accountable to myself,’ then that will just affect credibility.”
He further added: “The judiciary is being constructed in a way as if it’s positioned right after the Creator and no one is allowed to interfere. It’s like we are going beyond the law.”