The cabinet led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on August 4 approved the national broadcast policy, imposing restrictions on private television channels' news and other programmes. Three days after the approval, the government issued a gazette notification, ignoring a strong criticism against the policy from different quarters. The legality of the policy was challenged with the High Court on August 18. Now, a High Court Division bench of the Supreme Court will decide whether it is constitutional or not.
The day the broadcast policy was challenged the cabinet approved a proposal on amending the constitution to restore the parliament's power to impeach Supreme Court judges on grounds of their misconduct and incapacity. Hours after the approval of the proposal, the law minister announced that he would place the proposal in the form of a bill in the parliament's upcoming session starting from September 1. And the government will face no obstacle to pass the bill in the upcoming parliament's session.
By approving the proposal on amending the constitution, the Sheikh Hasina-led government has ignored the plea of some former chief justices and eminent jurists. Joining the meeting of the parliamentary body for the constitutional amendments on April 24, 2011, the judges and jurists strongly objected the move to restore the parliament's power by scrapping the existing Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) system. The then Hasina-led government had refrained from scrapping the SJC system; rather it inserted almost the same provision in the charter through the constitution's 15th amendment in June 2011. But now, the present Hasina-led government is moving to scrap the SJC system, paying no heed to the plea of the judges and jurists.
There is a big difference of quality between the two governments. The past Awami League government was formed after winning a landslide victory in the December 2008 parliamentary election. In the polls, people extended their wholehearted support to the AL. On the contrary, the present government was formed through a one-sided election. More than half of the 300 MPs were elected uncontested, denying the people's right to vote to elect their representatives.
So, if everything goes as per the government's plan, the constitution amendment bill will be passed anytime in September. With the amendment to the constitution, the Supreme Court will lose the authority to take actions against its own judges through Supreme Judicial Council.
In defence, the law ministry said that the SJC system ran counter to the article 7 of the constitution which declares that all powers of the State belong to the people and the constitution is the solemn expression of the will of the people. It also argued that the parliament represents the people so it should have the authority to impeach apex court judges.
The arguments may be theoretically correct. But the reality is different. Think about the state of the current parliament, which is fully controlled by the AL-led alliance government. How does it represent the people?
More than three years ago former chief justices and jurists expressed their fear about the move. Even current Attorney General Mahbubey Alam on April 24, 20011 told the parliamentary body about the judges' anxiety over it. He said: "All of my friends and my juniors who have become judges have already expressed their concern over the matter and many of them are in panic."
At that time, former attorney general Mahmudul Islam had favoured the parliament to have the authority. But now he opposes the idea. He said: "Pardon me; we are panicking about leaving the fate of judges and others to parliament in the present situation. If we go back to the past provision, then I will say, independence of the judiciary will be at stake."
MPs are bound by the article 70 to obey their parties' decision whether they deem it right or wrong. Former chief justice ABM Khairul Haque said that it made the MPs "prisoners of their parties”. Once the parliament gets back the authority, who will in reality be able to exercise the power? Is it the parliament or the prime minister who enjoys a full control over his/her party MPs thanks to the article 70? Our constitutional provision, in view of many legal experts, has given birth to a parliamentary dictatorship. What will happen when the premier will have the scope to use the parliament's power to impeach apex court judges? Will this allow the prime minister to exert control over the judiciary?
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.