16th Amendment Verdict: JS uproar sparks debate, criticism
Lawmakers ignored the rules of procedure of the Jatiya Sangsad by launching a blistering attack on the Supreme Court for scrapping the 16th constitutional amendment that restored parliament's power to remove SC judges for misconduct or incapacity, alleged some civil society members yesterday.
As per sections 53, 63 and 133 of the rules of procedure, parliament cannot hold discussions on the president, judges and the judiciary, said Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of civil society platform Shujan.
“It is clearly stated [in the rules of procedure] that questions cannot be raised or adjourn motions cannot be placed in this regard. And the rules of procedure are also a law approved in parliament,” Badiul said.
“They [MPs] have disregarded the law they themselves made. It is unfortunate if lawmakers do not obey the law.”
Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik too said, “Parliament does not have the jurisdiction to hold a discussion like that one lawmakers had that day [on Sunday].
“With this type of discussion following a verdict, I think they [lawmakers] have probably violated the rules they have enacted.”
The civil society members were speaking at a roundtable discussion titled “Independence of Judiciary and the Way Out”, organised by Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan) and held at the Jatiya Press Club. Shujan President M Hafiz Uddin Khan, also a former caretaker government adviser, was in the chair.
Although organisers said the event was pre-scheduled and had no relation with Sunday's discussion in the House, several speakers focused on the JS uproar.
Senior ministers and MPs from the treasury and the opposition benches on Sunday opened a barrage of flak, terming the SC verdict “unexpected”. They said the apex court has to prove how parliamentarians have “challenged the basic structure” of the constitution by passing the 16th amendment.
Lawmakers also came down heavily on the amici curiae appointed by the SC, especially Dr Kamal Hossain and M Amirul Islam, for opposing the 16th amendment.
In the wake of the JS discussion, the SC Bar Association got split over the issue.
In a press conference yesterday, pro-BNP lawyers alleged that the remarks made by senior ministers and lawmakers about the chief justice and two veteran jurists are tantamount to “contempt of court”.
Pro-Awami League lawyers held another press conference and blasted the pro-BNP jurists.
They alleged the press conference of the pro-BNP lawyers will tarnish the image of the judiciary and create confusion among people about the relationship between the judiciary and the government.
While speaking at the roundtable discussion, Prof CR Abrar of Dhaka University's international relations department said lawmakers even launched personal attacks on that day.
“If anybody tarnished the image of parliament, it was the parliamentarians....” he added.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, an executive member of Shujan, said it seemed parliament faced off with the judiciary over the appointment and ways of work of the judges.
Rizwana, also chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said political leaders and lawmakers were not so excited when the Supreme Court scrapped the amendments brought by the military rulers, and the caretaker government provision.
“We even saw them welcome the judgments but today, as the 16th amendment is scrapped, they say it is an attack on their independence and sovereignty. That means, when the verdict will serve your political interest, you will welcome it. We could not develop the mentality to accept a verdict if it does not serve our political interest,” she said.
Prof Asif Nazrul of Dhaka University's Law Department said many lawmakers claimed that parliaments in many countries have the power to remove High Court judges but they were “totally wrong”.
He said the British Institute of Comparative and International Law conducted a research in 2015 over 48 commonwealth countries and found that only in four countries -- Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nauru and Samoa -- parliaments had the power to remove HC judges without the involvement of judiciary.
The speakers also put emphasis on more independence of judiciary, more budgetary allocation for the Law and Justice Division and enactment of laws for appointment of HC judges and permanent attorney services.
Shahdeen Malik said the more the judiciary is independent, the more the country is developed. He, however, said accountability of the judiciary also has to be ensured.
Columnist Syed Abul Maksud said there is no alternative to the independence of judiciary but protecting its respect and dignity is more important.
If the dignity and respect of judiciary cannot be ensured and sweeping criticisms against it goes on, the common people will lose respect for it.
Hafiz Uddin Khan said although the independence of judiciary is guaranteed in the constitution, there are a lot of problems yet to be solved.
Justice Kazi Ebaidul Haque, a former SC judge, and SC lawyers Subrata Chowdhury and Jyotirmoy Barua also spoke at the programme.