Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha is facing 11 charges, including money laundering and corruption, the Supreme Court said in a statement yesterday, a day after he left the country for Australia.
President Abdul Hamid informed the judges of the SC's Appellate Division about the allegations last month and they discussed the allegations with Justice Sinha, it mentioned.
“But, as the five judges did not get an acceptable explanation or a satisfactory answer [from the CJ] during the long discussion [with him], they categorically told him that 'in this situation, it would not be possible for them to conduct trial proceedings sitting in the same bench with him until the allegations are resolved',” said the statement, which was posted on the SC's official website.
The SC release, signed by its Registrar General Syed Aminul Isalm, comes a day after Justice Sinha handed over a written statement to newsmen before leaving for Australia on Friday night.
The top court issued the statement following a meeting of the apex court judges around 11:00am yesterday, according to a reliable source at the SC.
“The post of chief justice is an institution. For the sake of upholding the dignity of the post and the judiciary, the Supreme Court was yet to give any statement. But in the given context, the abovementioned statement has been issued,” the statement concludes.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam yesterday said Justice Sinha's rejoining the office of chief justice after returning from abroad is “a far cry.”
A deadlock would be created if other judges of the Appellate Division do not want to sit with the chief justice, he said during a press briefing at his office.
The country cannot be run in such a situation, he added.
“So, if you consider the situation, it seems to me that his reassuming the charge on return is a far cry,” Mahbubey Aalm said, adding that the SC release was very well-timed to dispel confusions created after the CJ's statement.
Before leaving the country on Friday night, Justice Sinha said he was not sick, contradicting the government claim that he went on leave on health grounds earlier this month.
He spoke to reporters briefly in front of his Hare Road residence and handed them a signed statement, typed in Bangla, before heading to the airport.
In the statement, Justice Sinha said he was fully well, but embarrassed by the way he was criticised by a political quarter, lawyers, and especially the honourable prime minister and some ministers over a verdict.
He also said he was a “bit worried about the independence of the judiciary.”
Justice Sinha has reached Australia, said an SC official yesterday, without giving details.
Meanwhile, Abdul Matin Khasru, former law minster and ruling Awami League's presidium member, yesterday said the allegations brought against Justice Sinha must be investigated.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the CJ's statement has exposed the government's “real intention”. Former law minister and senior BNP leader Moudud Ahmed alleged that the “government decision to send the CJ abroad” has completely tarnished the Supreme Court's image.
The Supreme Court yesterday said it was issuing the release as Justice Sinha's statement is “misleading” and has drawn the court's attention.
On September 30, the president invited five judges of the Appellate Division, other than Justice Sinha, to the Bangabhaban. Justice Muhammad Imman Ali could not be there as he was abroad at the time.
Four other judges -- Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain, Justice Hasan Foez Siddique and Justice Mirza Hussain Haider -- met the president.
At one stage of a long discussion, the president handed over documentary evidence over 11 specific allegations against the chief justice.
The allegations include “money laundering, financial irregularities, corruption, moral turpitude and some other specific serious allegations”.
After Justice Imman Ali returned home, the five judges held a meeting on October 1 to discuss the 11 allegations and decided to notify Justice Sinha about those.
“If he fails to give satisfactory reply to the allegations, it would not be possible to conduct trial proceedings alongside him,” reads the statement.
The five judges, taking permission from Justice Sinha, met him at his residence at 11:30am the same day and discussed the allegations.
But the five judges did not get a satisfactory answer from the CJ, according to the SC statement. They told him that it would not be possible for them to hold trials sitting in the same bench with him unless the allegations are resolved.
At this, Justice Sinha categorically said that he would resign. However, he would come up with his final decision the following day.
On October 2, without informing the judges, Justice Sinha submitted his application to the president for one month's leave. The president approved it, reads the release.
Following this, president, as per article 97 of the constitution, appointed Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, the senior most judge of the Appellate Division, to discharge the duties of the chief justice in the absence of Sinha.
Replying to a query, the attorney general said Justice Wahhab will discharge all types of duties of the CJ. It is not logical that an acting chief justice, when the chief justice stays abroad for a month or 15 days, will not be able to make policy decisions.
In his written statement on Friday night, Justice Sinha said there is no precedence of interference in the administration of the chief justice by the government or the judge acting as the chief justice. He (the judge discharging duties of the CJ) will only perform routine job. “It has always been like this.”
Asked about details of the 11 allegations against Justice Sinha, the AG said, “The allegations are at the hands of law enforcement agencies, not mentioned in the statement [issued by the SC]. The president is well aware of it.”
Asked whether Justice Sinha broke his oath, the country's top law officer said oath is violated when an allegation is proved.
Asked whether the allegations are proved, he posed a counter question: “Is it possible to say all this against the country's chief justice if the allegations, prima facie, have no substance?”
The SC statement has proved that the government has no role regarding the chief justice's leave as alleged by a political party, he said.
“Rather, after being informed by the president about the allegations against the chief justice, the other judges declined to sit with him [Justice Sinha]. So he was forced to take the leave.”
Replying to a question whether there is a necessity to form the Supreme Judicial Council now, the AG said, “We are yet to accept the concept of Supreme Judicial Council.
“We are taking preparation for filing a petition seeking a review [of the sixteenth amendment verdict].”
The provision of SJC has been reinstated following the cancellation of 16th constitutional amendment through the verdict.
Justice Sinha was appointed the 21st chief justice in January 2015. He is scheduled to retire on January 31 next year, said SC sources.
He came under fire ever since the SC on August 1 released the full text of the verdict scrapping the 16th amendment that had empowered parliament to remove SC judges for misconduct or incapacity.
Following the verdict, the prime minister and senior ministers came down heavily on the CJ, with many of them calling for his resignation.
The Jatiya Sangsad on September 13 passed a resolution calling for legal steps to nullify the SC verdict. The law minister on several occasions said the government would seek review of the judgment.
In its full verdict, the top court made some observations, which were critical of the country's present political culture.
On October 2, the SC authorities in a letter informed the president about Justice Sinha's leave, according to Law Minister Anisul Huq.
The following day, the minister told the media that the CJ was going on a month's leave as he was suffering from cancer. A few days later, he also showed what he claimed was a copy of the CJ's letter informing the president about his leave.
The BNP and the Supreme Court Bar Association, which is dominated by pro-BNP lawyers, however, have been alleging the government forced the CJ to go on leave, but the law minister and the attorney general dismissed it.