Surendra Kumar Sinha has sent a letter of resignation to the president from abroad, stepping down from the post of chief justice, a day after his month-long leave on health grounds ended.
The president’s Press Secretary Joynal Abedin told the press yesterday morning that President Abdul Hamid's office had received the resignation letter.
This is the first time in the 47 years since Bangladesh's independence, during which 21 judges have served in the position, that a chief justice has stepped down before the end of their term. He was supposed to retire after 81 days, on January 21 next year.
Sinha left for Australia on October 13 amid a row with the government after the top court scrapped the 16th constitutional amendment, stripping the parliament of its power to impeach apex court judges. He had drawn criticism from the ruling party for his observations made in the verdict.
Before leaving the country, he told the press that he was “quite embarrassed” about how a specific political quarter, including some ministers and the prime minister herself, had criticised him over one of his rulings –the 16th Amendment verdict.
Immediately after Sinha left the country, five judges of the Appellate Division announced their unwillingness to continue working with him because of “11 gross allegations including money laundering, financial scam, corruptions, moral degradation against him.”
The 11 charges against Sinha included money laundering, corruption and misconduct. According to a statement issued by the Supreme Court registrar, other judges of Appellate Division did not want to conduct court proceedings with Sinha as he had failed to give satisfactory answers to his colleagues over the corruption charges.
The contents of Sinha's resignation letter have not been disclosed by the president's office yet.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) reacted to the chief justice's resignation as a black chapter in the history of the nation's judiciary. Law Minister Anisul Huq however, has said that the government sees no reason to be alarmed with this development, and that some people were trying to take advantage of the situation.
BNP Standing Committee member Moudud Ahmed said that the government had forced Justice Sinha to resign.
“The nation has plunged into darkness after this event,” he said.
He also alleged that the government has been trying to destroy the independence of the judiciary.
“The chief justice and the judiciary are facing an organised attack, which has resulted in an institutional crisis,” he said.
Moudud also alleged that the chief justice had become a victim of the government's vengeance as the verdict on 16th amendment went against its interests.
“The government could go through a legal process like filing a review petition against the verdict. But they put pressure on the CJ to resign,” he said at a program in the capital.
Refuting the BNP's claim, Law Minister Anisul Huq said that the chief justice had taken leave on medical grounds and then went abroad. He sent the resignation letter on his own.
He said that the government did not force the chief justice to resign.
“Some people who are trying to fish in dangerous waters are saying all kinds of things. I will tell them that the water is so clear, there is no scope for fishing.”
Former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru said that the BNP's allegations about the resignation of the chief justice were mere speculations.
“They are trying to do bad politics with this issue,” he said.
He said that the judiciary was independent in Bangladesh.
“Only the chief Justice can say why he has resigned. This is his personal decision, I think,” he said.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Zainul Abedin alleged that the government forced the chief justice to submit the resignation letter.
“With this, the government finally has the Supreme Court in its grasp. This is unfortunate for the nation,” he said.
Zainul said that until yesterday morning they knew that Sinha had gone to Canada and knew nothing about any resignation letter to the president. The news of the resignation has suddenly surfaced, he said.
“We do not know how he resigned. How did he send a letter from Singapore?”
Sinha flew to Singapore from Australia on November 6 and from there to Canada on Friday.