The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has declared a virtual boycott of Chief Justice S.K. Sinha until he offers satisfactory answers to “11 charges of corruption” against him.
The unparalleled escalation came hours after the Chief Justice left for Australia after issuing a statement that had critical references to the Sheikh Hasina government.
The top judge and the government have been locked in a stand-off ever since the Chief Justice struck down parliament’s powers to remove judges of the Supreme Court. Justice Sinha had angered the ruling Awami League establishment further by referring to the Pakistan Supreme Court’s order that banned then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from public office for a decade.
The souring of relations signalled an extraordinary turnaround since January 2015 when the Hasina government had swum against the tide and made Justice Sinha the first Hindu Chief Justice of the Muslim-majority country.
Today, the Supreme Court issued a formal statement saying that five senior-most judges would not partner the Chief Justice on any bench until the condition was met. The five judges and Justice Sinha make the appellate division of the Supreme Court that has another division that discharges high court functions.
“The five SC judges held a meeting on October 1 and decided that they would no longer sit with Justice Sinha unless the matters of corruption were cleared and explained by the Chief Justice. They met the Chief Justice at his Hare Road official residence the same day…. But the five Appellate Division judges did not get satisfactory answers from him,” said the statement signed by apex court registrar-general Syed Aminul Islam.
This is the first time since the birth of Bangladesh 46 years ago that the apex court issued a statement against a Chief Justice, the custodian of the Constitution.
The list of charges includes financial irregularities, corruption and moral turpitude, said the statement.
According to the statement released this evening, Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, Syed Mahmud Hossain, Hasan Foez Siddique, Mirza Hussain Haider and Iman Ali came to know of the charges after President Abdul Hamid handed over documents containing the 11 charges of corruption against Justice Sinha on September 30.
Justice Wahab has been named the acting Chief Justice.
Before leaving for Australia last night on a month-long leave, Sinha created a stir by issuing a statement.
“I am really embarrassed at the way political quarters, lawyers and especially several honourable ministers and the Prime Minister personally criticised me over a recent verdict,” the Chief Justice said in the statement.
The verdict he referred to was delivered by a bench headed by him. It had scrapped the 16th amendment to the Constitution through which the Hasina government had empowered parliament to remove Supreme Court judges for incapacity or misconduct.
Justice Sinha faced sharp criticism from senior Awami League leaders and some of them publicly demanded his resignation following the verdict. His reference to what the Supreme Court in Pakistan did to Sharif added fuel to the fire, following which Sinha went on leave on September 3.
While the government maintained that he went on “medical leave”, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party claimed that he was sent on “forced leave”.
Justice Sinha said he was “fully well”, which the BNP leaders lapped up to point out that the government was interfering in the affairs of the judiciary.
“The BNP is trying to create unrest in the country…. How can they claim that the government is interfering in the affairs of the judiciary? There are charges against the Chief Justice. But they are standing by him. Is there a pact between them?” asked Muhammad Ali Arafat, a pro-Awami League academic.
In a country that has seen coups, political assassinations, army rule, army-backed caretaker governments and civilian regimes, the opinion on Justice Sinha remains divided.
While some think that Justice Sinha, driven by his ambition, crossed his brief and hurt the sentiment of the people with his insensitive comments, there are also voices that blame the government for driving out the Chief Justice for quashing an amendment it was desperate to bring in.
“History will evaluate the merits or demerits of the verdict…. But what’s happening in the country after the verdict will surely encourage undemocratic forces,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Rana Dasgupta.