Bangladesh’s Hindu Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha is believed to have been forced to go on leave, sparking allegations by opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) that the government had forced him to go on leave for a month, three months before his retirement.
As per media reports in Bangladesh, the Supreme Court administration on Tuesday sent a letter to the president, informing him that Chief Justice Sinha, who is on leave on health grounds, would go to Australia to see his daughter and receive treatment.
Registrar of the Appellate Division of the SC Md Zakir Hossain signed the letter saying that the Chief Justice may leave for Australia on October 13 and may stay there till November 10, a high official at the Supreme Court told The Daily Star asking not to be identified.
News portal bdnews24 cited a senior official confirming that the letter sent by the Chief Justice to President Md Abdul Hamid reached the Law ministry in the afternoon.
"The chief justice has sent the letter to us to inform the president that he is travelling abroad. It (forwarding the letter to the president) is under process now," the official said.
While a Chief Justice proceeding on leave shouldn’t ideally stir any controversy, it is the backdrop that has raised eyebrows.
Justice Sinha's sick leave comes on the back of a full-frontal attack by the ruling Awami League leaders over the 16th amendment appeals verdict. The amendment, which would empower members of parliament to impeach judges of the high court and supreme court, was struck down, first by the former and then by the latter.
Announcing the judgment, Justice Sinha referred to the history of the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971. While paying full tribute to the leadership of the country’s founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in the movement for freedom, Justice Sinha noted that an entire nation took part in the struggle which was a collective experience for Bangladesh rather than being the contribution of a single individual.
The CJ’s observations drew sharp criticism from the ruling party which alleged that Justice Sinha had undermined and belittled the contributions of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the creation of Bangladesh.
Justice Sinha came under fire again, this time from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for another comment. He said that the judiciary has been very patient and referred to the removal of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the country’s apex court.
“We are being very, very patient. The Supreme Court of Pakistan removed the prime minister. Was there any criticism over it? No,” Sinha told an open court hearing.
Hasina slammed the Chief Justice for comparing Bangladesh with Pakistan. “He should have quit…The most humiliating thing is the comparison with Pakistan which is intolerable,” Hasina said, without mentioning Chief Justice Sinha’s name.
“There would be no benefit in giving me such a threat (of removal),” she said, asserting that she is not scared at all. “People’s court is the biggest court; no one can ignore people’s court…I’m lodging my complaint with this court… I want justice from the court of people,” she said.
The entire row, sparked by Justice Sinha overturning the amendment that empowered the Parliament to dismiss judges of higher courts, has seen the senior jurists come under constant attack from ruling party leaders.
In fact, he has been issued specific threats to ‘leave the country’ on more than one occasion. Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury asked the CJ to leave the country or be treated for mental illness.
Justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury, who retired last year and has had a public spat with Justice Sinha, too joined in.
The CJ, Chowdhury warned, will have to leave the country if he does not recognise Mujib’s leadership in Bangladesh’s independence movement.
His decision to proceed abroad for ‘treatment’ has now stirred a hornet’s nest. On Monday, the pro-BNP faction of the Supreme Court Bar Association staged demonstrations protesting against what they termed as the “confinement of the chief justice”.
On the other hand, ruling Awami League-backed lawyers’ body Bangabandhu Awami Ainjibi Parishad held a meeting at the North Hall of the SCBA building protesting against what they said was the politicization of the court premises by pro-BNP and Jamaat lawyers regarding the CJ's one-month leave.
The ruling party has said there is no connection between the Chief Justice’s leave and the 16th amendment appeals verdict.
Chief Justice SK Sinha has been on one month’s leave since October 3. His tenure ends on January 31, 2018. He took charge as Chief Justice on January 17, 2015.