It’s government versus judiciary in Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina

Sheikh Hasina  

The Bangladesh Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the 16th amendment to the Constitution, which empowered the country’s Parliament to remove top court judges, has triggered strong criticism from the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The verdict, the full text of which was released on Thursday, also drew flak from Awami League MPs as well as the country’s Law Commission Chairman.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul Haq on Thursday told reporters that the government was “aggrieved” by the verdict, and that it was considering whether to appeal the ruling.

‘Upsetting ruling’

In the 799-page verdict, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha focussed on a host of issues such as military rule, the Election Commission, corruption, governance and the independence of the judiciary. “The Chief Justice has undermined Parliament with offensive comments. I believe the court has nothing to do with political issues. His statements are upsetting,” Mr. Haq said.

He, however, added: “The office of the Chief Justice is a constitutional institution... It is our responsibility to protect its dignity.”

On an observation in the verdict by the Chief Justice that the “credit of for independence does not go to a single person” — an oblique reference to country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — the Law Minister said: “It’s indeed painful for us to reiterate the truth 47 years after independence. That’s why we decided for measures to expunge the offensive and irrelevant statements.”

‘Judges’ republic’

Several MPs in Parliament have also raised concerns over the “motive” behind some observations made by the Chief Justice. A.B.M. Khairul Haque, a former Chief Justice, said the Constitution of Bangladesh says this is the people’s republic, “but after this verdict, it seems our country is going to be the judges’ republic of Bangladesh”.

At a media briefing, Justice Haque, now the Law Commission Chairman, termed the verdict “misconceived, irrelevant and immature”. The Supreme Court made its observations overlooking “the main issue of the case,” he said.

“If the Chief Justice says the current Parliament is immature, I have to say the Supreme Court judges are immature as they unnecessarily used derogatory and unparliamentary language about the parliament members in the verdict,” he said.

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