A CHIEF justice having his fellows in the Appellate Division, the highest of the courts, coming up with allegations of corruption against him is unprecedented in Bangladesh but it happened, on Saturday, to Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha a day after he had gone abroad in a situation marked by controversy. However, the foremost task of the appropriate authorities, obviously with the chief justice being given the full freedom to defend himself, in this regard is to attend to the issue, especially in view of a person who presides, and has presided, over the highest court although such issues would need to be addressed even in the case of any other individual. But what remains to be looked into is that the allegations of corruption against SK Sinha have come originally from the president, the head of the state, as New Age reported on Sunday. The president Abdul Hamid on September 30 invited all the Appellate Division judges but Justice Sinha to Bangabhaban, the residence of the president, where the president handed four of the judges, who could attend, documents of 11 specific allegations of corruption, money laundering, financial irregularity and moral turpitude against SK Sinha. On return of another Appellate Division judge, who was abroad, five judges met SK Sinha and on finding no acceptable explanations from SK Sinha, the five judges, in that event, expressed their inability to sit on the court with Sinha pending the resolution of the allegations.
The other issue that needs, meanwhile, to be looked into is that while the allegations came from the president, the president is mandated to do everything but two responsibilities — appointing the prime minister and the chief justice — at the advice of the prime minister, the head of the government. It seems, to simply put, that the allegations of corruption against SK Sinha, therefore, came from the government, which has been at odds with the judiciary, particularly with its head SK Sinha, centring on his certain observations about the country’s politics and political history for quite some time. While the tussle on the issue of the independence of the judiciary has dragged on for long, the most recent case in example is the scrapping by the Appellate Division of a government appeal against a High Court Division verdict in the case of the 16th amendment to the constitution, which was declared unconstitutional. The Appellate Division verdict and the observations that SK Sinha made on history and political culture irked the ruling Awami League and earned Sinha invectives from government and ruling party leaders, including the prime minister and some of her cabinet colleagues. Allegations of corruption against the chief justice coming in to play at a time when the tussle between the executive and the legislative, on the one hand, and the judiciary, on the other, was in the thick of it and when SK Sinha went — or made to go, as many believe — on leave for a month abroad in a controversial environment could very well point to partisan politics playing a role in the whole of the issue. And this might not augur well, neither for the executive nor for the legislative nor for the judiciary.
The first and foremost task that now remains for the authorities concerned, in what has happened so far, is to attend to the resolution of the allegations of corruption levelled against the chief justice. But the question remains about who is the competent authority to look into the issue when there is also a question as to whether or not the Supreme Judicial Council, the authority to look into the allegations against Supreme Court judges, exists after the government had taken it out from the state’s constitution and then ‘restored’ by the Supreme Court while the governing quarters claim that the ‘restoration’ by the court verdict would not automatically re-establish the council unless it is done by another fresh amendment to the constitution? Under the complex legal circumstances, this is certain that the political ploy that rears its head in all this will usher in no good for any quarters.
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