Justice Sinha claims to be ‘exiled’ by govt
MNA Editorial Desk: Former Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha said that he resigned in the face of intimidation and threats and was ‘exiled’ by the government.
Justice Sinha made the claim in his book titled “A Broken Dream: Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy” which is available on Amazon.
“I had the opportunity and honour to observe this transformation and the hindrances as a participant of the Bangladeshi judiciary since 1974 — rising from a practitioner at a lower court in the north-eastern district of Sylhet to the highest judicial position of the country, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But, in 2017, after delivering a historic verdict in favour of the independence of judiciary, I was forced to resign and exiled by the current government,” Sinha wrote.
“It was unprecedented in the history of the judiciary.” In the book, he alleges the military’s intelligence wing DGFI posed threats to his friends and family.
No comment from any minister on the allegation brought by the former chief justice against the government was immediately available. The DGFI says it never coerces anyone.
Sinha narrated a series of “unfortunate and unprecedented events”, which led to the tension between the executive and the judiciary and “subsequent improper action against me”.
The tension began on Sept 17, 2014 when the Bangladesh parliament amended the constitution to provide power of impeaching judges to the members of parliament.
“The 16th Amendment of the Constitution deleted the provision of removing Judges from office through a highly powerful committee of peers called the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The SJC, as stipulated in the constitution, also allowed the accused to have self-defense. Most importantly, the process was meant to protect the judiciary from being subjected to political vagaries and serving political leaders than the citizens.”
On May 5, 2016, a special High Court bench declared the amendment illegal and unconstitutional.
“Soon after the verdict, the MPs blasted judges for nullifying their legislation and began displaying sheer disrespect to the judiciary. However, the state party opted for an appeal which was heard by a seven-member full appellate bench. It was incumbent on me to head the Bench.”
On July 3, 2017, the bench unanimously rejected the appeal upholding the High Court verdict.
Following the appellate decision, on Sept 13, 2017, the parliament passed a resolution calling for legal steps to nullify the Supreme Court verdict. The prime minister and other members of her party and ministers “blasted me for going against the parliament”.
“Cabinet members including the Law Minister began smearing me alleging misconduct and corruption. While I remained confined at my official residence and lawyers and judges were prevented to visit me, media were told that I am unwell and have sought medical leave.”
“Various ministers said I will go abroad on medical leave. On October 14, 2017, as I was compelled to leave the country, I tried to clear the air in a public statement that I am neither unwell nor am I leaving the country for good. I was hoping that my physical absence combined with Court’s regular vacation will allow the situation to calm down and good sense will prevail; that the government will understand that the essence of the Verdict – upholding the independence of judiciary – is beneficial to the nation and the state.”
He said he resigned his position while abroad in the “face of intimidation and threats to my family and friends by the country’s military intelligence agency called the Directorate General of the Defense Forces Intelligence (DGDFI)”.
When contacted for comments, DGFI spokesman Brig Gen Ahmed Tanvir Mazhar Siddiqui told media they were yet to get a copy of the book and trying to collect one. “But let me make it clear that the DGFI never threatens any person or does anything like this,” he added.
Justice Sinha would have retired on Jan 31, 2018, but he had to resign 81 days before the end of his term amid the ‘unprecedented’ situation.
No other chief justice was as much discussed as Justice Sinha was in Bangladesh. He is also the first chief justice to resign in the country.
He made headlines a number of times over issues like row with a retired colleague over writing judgments after retirement, allegation of curbing the judiciary’s powers, dispute with the government over publication of a gazette clarifying service rules of lower court judges, and tension over a statue on the Supreme Court premises.
Finally, he went on leave in the beginning of October last year after facing rage of the ruling party for the verdict cancelling the 16th constitutional amendment and some of his observations in the judgment.
The government said he was sick, but before leaving Bangladesh on Oct 13, Justice Sinha said he was ‘not sick, but embarrassed’ at the criticism by the ruling Awami League.
He also said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina might have ‘felt hurt’ because ‘a quarter misinterpreted the verdict to her’.
After the end of his leave, the government on Nov 11 said Justice Sinha had resigned. After his resignation, the Supreme Court said in a rare statement that Justice Sinha had been facing 11 specific charges, including corruption, money laundering, financial irregularities and moral blunder.
Ruling party leader Health Minister Mohammed Nasim said at the time that there had been “efforts to topple the government through a judicial coup by a judge”.
And Law Minister Anisul Huq said Justice Sinha “wanted to snatch away the president’s constitutional powers to control judges through the service rules”.
The tension between the Supreme Court and the government over the gazette on judges’ service rules ended after Justice Abdul Wahhab Miah took the charge as the acting chief justice.
The government has also appealed for a review of the verdict cancelling the 16th constitutional amendment, which allows the MPs to remove any top judge on grounds of incompetency or misconduct.