Govt. coercing judges into submission

Faruque Ahmed

The democratic space is rapidly shrinking in the country. After the draconian move to gag the freedom of the media – both print and electronic – by limiting the free flow of information, the government is now working to control the higher judiciary by empowering the rubber stamp Parliament with a proxy opposition to remove the judges of the Supreme Court. The question of the move’s legitimacy is now open for discussion.

The cabinet has approved the recent decision to hand over the power of impeaching the Supreme Court judges to Parliament by a two-thirds majority on charges of misconduct and failing to do the job properly.
Meanwhile the government is working to pass the 16th amendment to the constitution to drop the provision of Supreme Judicial Council and restore the authority of Parliament to impeach the judges.

Executive’s control over judiciary
The government claims that the Supreme Judicial Council was introduced by Ziaur Rahman by a military decree in 1977 taking away the right of Parliament to remove the judges. It became part of the constitution later on. But it appears surprising that while passing the 15th amendment of the constitution, the present Sheikh Hasina government did not drop it because of its merit while dropping many other martial law decrees that subsequently became part of the constitution. The government has now taken the move to drop it to make its control over the judiciary absolute.
But in doing so it claims that it is returning the power of impeaching the judges to Parliament and by doing so they are in fact correcting a historic wrong perpetrated by former military ruler Ziaur Rahman who was later elected president of the country.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Law Minister Anisul Haq and host of other government leaders are justifying the move saying they are restoring the 1972 constitutional provision on removal of judges by this act of amendment.
Political observers, however, point out two critical aspects that need to be evaluated in this case. In the first place one should see whether the scrapping of the Supreme Judicial Council comprising of the Chief Justice and his two senior most Judges is a right step and coming with an honest intension.
People generally believe that the Supreme Judicial Council has its own merit as far as the reviewing of the conduct of the judges and their physical and mental capacity to hold the post. They also tend to believe that it has been a right step to keep the higher judiciary free from fear and intervention of the executive branch of the government.

Zia rescued judiciary
President Ziaur Rahman had in fact wanted to make sure that judges should be allowed to work independently beyond any pressure and fear of losing jobs which may come from the two other branches of the government, that is from the executive and the legislature.
Moreover, he had acted to rescue the judiciary from the grab of the president as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had taken over the right of appointment and removal of Supreme Court Judges in his own hand abolishing the 1972 constitutional provision in this regard. He passed the 4th amendment to establish the one party BAKSAL rule in Bangladesh and vested all such powers in his own hand.
Sheikh Mujib had even deleted the provision of ‘consultation’ with the Chief Justice while appointing other judges in the Supreme Court. President Zia had thus salvaged the independence of judiciary by taking away the unilateral power of the president in removing the Supreme Court Judges by handing over the task to the Supreme Judicial Council.
Now it appears that Awami League leaders are purportedly shielding the suppression of the higher judiciary by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to make his one party rule safe. Moreover by blaming former president Ziaur Rahman for setting up the Supreme Judicial Council, the ruling party appears once again trying to shield their new strategy to make the higher judiciary hostage again in its hand. They are so desperate in their move that they are not ready to tolerate any protest by the opposition and civil society organizations against this illogical move.

Opposition protests subverted
Major opposition BNP and its allies sought to hold a protest meeting in the city on Wednesday last to denounce the move but police foiled it by pushing them into the National Press Club premises. Protest by Supreme Court Bar Association and Bangladesh Bar Council members have similarly  been Thwarted.
Political observers fear that democracy is fast losing ground by this singular act to control the higher judiciary followed by similar crunch on free flow of news and views that may not be friendly to the government. Some political scientists fear that the country is slipping into an authoritarian system and it may have disastrous consequences in domestic politics.
They said separation of Judiciary, executive and legislative branch of the government is also rapidly disappearing where Parliament now runs without an opposition and the executive branch of the government tends to dictate everything.
It appears that the ruling party is at work to transform the whole system of governance in a way where the opposition political parties and people suffering from the repression of the ruling party leaders and workers will hardly have any place to seek justice.
In a talk show, a participant voiced scepticism on seeing the improvement in peace index for Bangladesh which stands at the forefront in comparison to many other regional countries. He wonders what kind of peace this may be saying whether public silence should be accepted as equivalent to peace. If people’s democratic rights in public life are muzzled, it can’t be said the city streets are peaceful, he said.

Source: Weekly Holiday

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