Bangladesh court ends MPs’ power to sack judges

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has scrapped par­lia­ment’s power to sack top judges, in a land­mark verdict that lawyers said yes­ter­day bol­stered the in­de­pen­dence of the coun­try’s ju­di­ciary. The coun­try’s top court re­stored a mil­i­tary rule-era pro­vi­sion which al­lows only a Supreme Ju­di­cial Coun­cil, led by the chief jus­tice, to re­move judges found to have breached the ju­di­cial code of con­duct. The full rul­ing re­leased Tues­day was quickly hailed by lawyers as a cru­cial safe­guard for the free­dom of the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion’s sec­u­lar ju­di­ciary.

“The judg­ment de­clares the 16th amend­ment of the con­sti­tu­tion as null and void. It means the high­est court scraps the par­lia­ment’s power to re­move top judges,” se­nior lawyer Syed Ah­sanul Karim said. Karim said that be­cause of the “land­mark” judg­ment, the ex­ec­u­tive “will have no dom­i­nant role over the ju­di­ciary”. Karim said if the amend­ment had been left in place, it would have made top judges “sub­servient” to the gov­ern­ment as they would have been un­der con­stant threat of re­moval.

Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina brought the con­sti­tu­tional change al­low­ing par­lia­ment-con­trolled by her rul­ing Awami League party-to re­move top judges in Septem­ber 2014. In May last year, the High Court de­clared the amend­ment il­le­git­i­mate af­ter a lawyer filed a pub­lic in­ter­est chal­lenge. The Supreme Court led by chief jus­tice S K Sinha gave a pro­vi­sional verdict last month rul­ing against the gov­ern­ment.

“The 16th amend­ment has raised doubts about the in­de­pen­dence of the ju­di­ciary and the court boldly struck down that amend­ment,” said Shahdeen Ma­lik, se­nior lawyer and law pro­fes­sor. “This in­di­cates the as­sertive­ness of the court to pre­serve and pro­tect its in­de­pen­dence,” he said. The Supreme Court has in­creased pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to frame a code of con­duct for lower court judges, who ex­perts say are heav­ily in­flu­enced by the gov­ern­ment.

Ex­perts say a for­mal code would curb the gov­ern­ment’s power to use lower courts to pros­e­cute op­po­si­tion lead­ers and ac­tivists on trumped-up charges. The law min­istry has drafted rules, but the top court has re­jected them. Since com­ing to power in 2009, Hasina’s gov­ern­ment has de­tained and charged tens of thou­sands of op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers. — AFP

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