Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha on Friday evening claimed that he was not physically ill, completely contradicting a government narrative that he took a month-long leave on grounds of ill health.
Before leaving for the airport at 10:05pm, Justice Sinha addressed reporters gathered in front of the chief justice’s official residence in Dhaka's Hare Road regarding his much-talked-about vacation plea. He said he was quite embarrassed about how a specific political quarter, including some ministers and the prime minister herself, criticised him over one of his rulings. Justice Sinha was referring to the full verdict in the 16th Amendment to the Constitution case.
Law Minister Anisul Huq on October 3 said that Justice Sinha had been suffering from several diseases, including cancer, and he had informed President Abdul Hamid about it in a letter.
“I am not fleeing. I am leaving temporarily. I will come back. My assumption is that the government has been misled [on the 16th Amendment verdict],” Sinha told reporters.
The Dhaka Tribune obtained a copy of Sinha’s official statement, typed on the chief justice’s official pad, which reads: “…I strongly believe the prime minister has been misinformed by a certain quarter inside the government which led to her umbrage towards me. I am certain she [Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina] will not hold on to this [umbrage].”
The judge also expressed his concern about the government overreach on the Supreme Court’s business.
“…I am a little disturbed too,” the statement reads. “The law minister [Anisul Huq] on Thursday quoted the acting chief justice, also the eldest member of the current Appellate Division, saying that the latter would bring necessary changes to the Supreme Court administration soon. There is no precedence of an acting chief justice or the government interfering in a sitting chief justice’s administration. The acting chief judge is supposed to carry out daily routine tasks.
“An easy assumption can be drawn from this instance that the government is impinging on the apex court’s business and this might worsen an already deteriorated relationship between the government and the judiciary. This will not benefit the state.”
The Supreme Court on July 3 unanimously declared the 16th Amendment to the constitution illegal, stripping parliament of the power to impeach higher court judges.
The full text of the verdict was released on August 1.
The amendment – passed on September 17, 2014 – empowered parliament to dismiss Supreme Court judges if allegations of incapability or misconduct made against them were found true.
However, the apex court’s own mechanism for removing judges has been initiated, and Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of Article 96 of the constitution restored, with the amendment being scrapped.
The apex court in the 799-page appeal verdict expunged some remarks made in the High Court verdict regarding the members of parliament (MPs), saying courts or judges should have mutual respect.
It also approved a code of conduct for the judges and said that failure to comply with the code would be considered as gross misconduct.
“Since this amendment is ultra vires [goes beyond the legal power of] the constitution, the provision prevailing before the substitution is restored. The appeal is accordingly dismissed,” the apex court said in the verdict.
Since the release of the full verdict, Chief Justice Sinha has been facing barrages of criticism, both professional and personal, from different quarters of the government, the prime minister herself and the ruling party and its different wings.