I’m not sick

Chief justice tells journos before leaving for Australia, expresses concern over 'interference in judiciary', alleges a quarter is misleading govt, says he's not fleeing
Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha hands over a statement to journalists before getting into a car in front of his residence last night. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha last night said he was not sick as he left the country for Australia, contradicting the government's claim that he went on leave on health grounds earlier this month.

He briefly spoke to the reporters in front of his official residence at Kakrail and handed them a signed statement, typed in Bangla, before heading to the airport around 9:50pm.

"I'm not sick. I'm not fleeing. I'll come back. I'm a little embarrassed. I'm the guardian of the judiciary. I'm leaving for a brief period in the interest of the judiciary, and so that the judiciary is not polluted," the CJ told reporters.

"I've no antipathy to anybody. It's my firm belief that the government has been misled. This is my statement [the written statement]. I won't say anything more," he said.

It was the first time he spoke to the local media since the government announced his "sick leave" beginning October 3, the day the apex court opened after over a month-long annual vacation. 

Immigration officials confirmed the CJ left on board a Singapore Airlines flight at midnight.

In the written statement, he said, "I'm fully well, but the way a political quarter, lawyers, and especially some honourable ministers of the government and the honourable prime minister are criticising me recently over a verdict made me embarrassed."

Some in the government have wrongly interpreted the verdict (in the 16th amendment case) and presented it to the prime minister, making her upset, he said. "I firmly believe that it will not last long."

He also said he was a "bit worried about the independence of the judiciary". "Because citing the senior most judge [of the Supreme Court] who is now acting as the chief justice, the law minister yesterday [on Thursday] said that the judge acting as the chief justice will bring changes to the Supreme Court administration soon.

"There is no precedence of interference in the administration of the chief justice by the judge acting as the chief justice or the government. He [the judge acting as the CJ] will only discharge daily work as per the routine. It  has always been like this.

"If any interference is made in the chief justice's administration, it can be easily assumed that the government is interfering in the higher court and this will further deteriorate the relationship between the judiciary and the government. It would not bring any good to the state," he concluded.

The Daily Star has a photograph of his written statement.

Contacted, Law Minister Anisul Huq, who first broke the news of the CJ's "sick leave," declined to comment instantly.

"I will make comment after going through the statement of the chief justice," he told The Daily Star.

On October 2, the Supreme Court authorities informed the president about Justice Sinha's leave in a letter, according to the law minister. 

The law minister the following day told the media that the CJ was going on a month's leave as he had 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, have been alleging the government forced the CJ to go on leave, but the law minister and the attorney general dismissed it.

CJ's relatives visited him at his residence earlier in the day yesterday.

Journalists started gathering in front of his house since evening.

On Wednesday, President Abdul Hamid consented to the chief justice's plan to go abroad. The prime minister and law minister earlier signed the relevant order, which is mandatory for any government official travelling abroad. The law ministry issued a circular on Justice Sinha's leave on Thursday.

The chief justice will stay with his daughter in Australia till November 10, said a top official at the Supreme Court, asking not to be named.

Although the law minister told reporters on Thursday that Justice Sinha would travel to Australia, Canada, the US and the UK, the SC official said the CJ did not speak about travelling to any other country but Australia yesterday.

According to the circular on the chief justice's leave, Justice Md Abdul Wahhab Miah, the senior most judge of the SC after Justice Sinha, will carry out the CJ's duties till November 10 or till the CJ rejoins office.     

Justice Sinha was appointed the 21st chief justice of the country in January 2015. He is scheduled to go into retirement on January 31 next year, said SC sources.

He came under fire ever since the SC on August 1 released the full text of its verdict in the 16th amendment case, scrapping the 16 the 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.

Some pro-AL organisations, including Bangabandhu Awami Ainjibi Parishad, held protest programmes against the CJ. Parishad leaders threatened to launch a tougher agitation if the CJ didn't step down.

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 SC made some observations, which were critical of the country's present political culture.

Talking to the media on August 13, the law minister was particularly critical of CJ's observation that "no nation, no country is made of or by one person".

Anisul Huq said this was irrelevant in the case at hand and also contrary to the history. "There is no doubt that history has been distorted here."

He said neither the country's independence nor its declaration happened overnight. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced it after earning the people's mandate through a political movement.

"It will be a crime if I distort it," he said.

Hours before the CJ's departure, the BNP once again claimed the government was sending him abroad by "force" to establish its full control over the judiciary, reports UNB.

"It's now clear to the entire nation that the government has taken all the steps to send the chief justice abroad by force. It's also clear to all that the government is making all efforts to control the judiciary," Party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters.

He said the government made the move against Sinha for scrapping the 16th amendment and for unveiling the truth and the current situation of the country in the verdict. "The government can't accept and tolerate the verdict as they think it may put them in trouble."