Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha has said the judiciary is hundred times better than any other institutions in Bangladesh.
He made the remark on Wednesday while hearing an appeal filed by the government against a High Court verdict that scrapped the 16th constitutional amendment that empowered parliament to impeach Supreme Court judges.
Placing arguments before a seven-member Appellate Division bench headed by Chief Justice Sinha, Attorney General (AG) Mahbubey Alam said the court could hold a public hearing to assess if justice seekers had faith in the courts.
In response to this, the chief justice said the people’s level of trust in the judicial system, from Chowki Adalat to the High Court, was now over 90%.
Chowki Adalat is a type of special court set up during the British era in rural areas to settle civil and criminal cases. In some rural areas of Bangladesh, such courts are still in operation, which provide judicial services to justice seekers.
“I went to a Chowki Adalat in Banshkhali. Many justice seekers were seen coming to the Adalat instead of the deputy commissioner’s office. So, the judiciary is hundred times better that any institutions,” Sinha said.
Mahbubey Alam replied: “I am not absolutely happy [with the judiciary].”
Later, Sinha said they had wanted to recruit some knowledgeable and qualified persons as judges, but the recruitment was not possible, even in the last one and a half years.
“You know and everyone knows what you want,” the chief justice told him, without elaborating.
The AG said: “The Supreme Judicial Council was brought through martial law, which is a shame for the Constitution, and there is also an issue of state religion.”
The bench then asked him why the state religion has been kept in the Constitution while the council no longer exists.
The Supreme Judicial Council, composed of the chief justice and two senior most Supreme Court judges, was empowered by the Fifth Amendment to impeach judges for their incapacity and professional misconduct.
When the AG said the court could not touch the 1972 Constitution, the bench said the court had the jurisdiction to do so.
During the hearing, Chief Justice SK Sinha gave him a handout on the British judicial system. When the AG finished reading it out, he told him that the arguments they had earlier put forward lacked proper information and facts about the country’s judiciary.
On Tuesday – the fifth day of the hearing – he said the government did not trust its lawmakers, and that is why it did not drop Article 70 from the constitution, which prevents a lawmaker from voting against his or her party in parliament.
The hearing was adjourned until Thursday.
The 16th Amendment
The Bangladesh Constitution drafted in 1972 had given lawmakers the power to impeach judges. The power was, however, vested with the president following the Fourth Amendment in 1975. The president lost the power after introduction of the Supreme Judicial Council in 1977 during Gen Ziaur Rhaman’s regime.
On September 17, 2014, the House passed the “16th Amendment Bill 2014″ that empowered lawmakers again to impeach Supreme Court judges in the case of their incapability or professional misconduct.
Terming the amendment illegal and contradictory to the national charter, the High Court on May 5, 2016 scrapped it. Later, the government on January 4 this year filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the High Court verdict.