The narrative surrounding Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha's sudden leave took an about turn when on the night of his departure for Australia, he told the press he was in fact in sound physical condition, contrary to what his leave application said.
That night, on October 13, he also expressed concern over the “interference in judiciary” and a certain quarter's efforts to mislead the government.
The next day, the Supreme Court issued a rare statement citing five Appellate Division judges saying the chief justice is facing 11 major allegations including money laundering and corruption.
The statement said President Abdul Hamid had informed some of Sinha's colleagues about his wrongdoings and handed over documentary evidence on September 30. The judges discussed the allegations with Chief Justice Sinha on October 1. The statement claims although Sinha said he would resign, he merely filed a leave application the next day.
So why did the Supreme Court issue its statement a day after Justice Sinha left the country? What is the next course of action for the authorities with regards to these charges? And should Chief Justice Sinha not have been barred from going abroad for the sake of a fair investigation?
Law Minister Anisul Huq said any institution can come up with statements to clarify its stance when a finger is pointed at them.
Senior Awami League leader Barrister Shafique Ahmed called the Supreme Court release a statement of facts.
As the chief justice took leave on health grounds, but just before leaving the country he came up with contradictory statements, the registrar general of Supreme Court can, on permission of the acting chief justice, issue a statement to clarify, Shafique said.
“The statement announced the decision of five judges who did not want to sit with the chief justice anymore. It explained why Justice Sinha prayed for leave and left the country so that the public do not have any confusion,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“Now it is the government's responsibility to inquire into the allegations as quickly as possible. A case proceedings can be started following the investigation,” he said.
Asked why the chief justice was allowed to leave the country if there were allegations of criminal offenses against him, he said: “He is a justice of the higher court and apex court for years. As he has cited sickness ground to get the leave, the government considered it on humanitarian grounds.
“If he thinks that the allegation brought against him were not true, he will come back and defend himself legally,” he said.
Prominent jurist and constitution expert Shahdeen Malik opined that one cannot be barred from going abroad based on unofficial allegations.
“Only a court's order can bar someone from travelling. Even the president has no authority to bar anyone,” he said.
Asked about the legal procedure of investigating and prosecuting someone holding a constitutional post, the lawyer said: “If anyone raises allegations of misconduct against him with the president, the president will make primary inquiry into the allegations.”
“If the president finds the evidence to be concrete, he will forward it to the Supreme Judicial Council for inquiry. The SJC will inform the president if the allegations are proven false. If not, they will call the plaintiff and the offenders and hold hearings and finally upon its report, the president will impeach him,” he said.
But in case of criminal allegations, police or the Anti-Corruption Commission can investigate.
“It is not that someone can be arrested or confined upon mere allegations. You cannot take action against the chief justice all of a sudden,” he said.
He said that the statement on chief justice's corruption allegation by the Supreme Court itself was a unique incident.
“The things that are happening now never happened before and it reinforces the popular perception that there is political pressure behind the changes,” he said, referring to the sudden transfer of 10 Supreme Court officials on Sunday.