Civil Society Leaders Oppose Amending Constitution

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rountable_01september14On 1 September 2014, a round table discussion titled “Amendment to the Constitution: Impeachment of the Judges and its Significance” was organized by SHUJANCitizens for Good Governance at the National Press Club.

Protesting the motion by the incumbent government on constitution amendment and the impeachment of judges, various speakers declared it would be wise to bring about the changes immediately. SHUJAN Secretary, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, reading from a written statement, expressed concern that if parliament is granted the power to remove officials of other constitutional and statutory bodies, eventually all independent institutions could come under government control.
Dr. Majumdar reported questions had been raised as to whether the current parliament had any public representation due to its formation through a voter-less election and the fact that most of its members had been elected unopposed. “Certainly, the judges have to be accountable, but the accountability of the lawmakers, who possess unlimited powers, should also be guaranteed,” the SHUJAN Secretary added. “A larger section of the lawmakers from the present government are involved in different offensive and illegal activities. Many of them are harming the dignity of parliament and so their accountability must be ensured first,” he declared.

“The way the government is going to amend the constitution to restore parliament’s authority to impeach Supreme Court judges is ‘not right at all’ and ‘not for the interest of the country and the people'”, argued eminent jurist Dr. Kamal Hossain. “Public opinion should be solicited in this regard,” he said, stressing the need to reach a consensus through a national dialogue before the House passed any amendment to the charter.

The cabinet on 18 August approved a proposal for amending the constitution to restore parliament’s authority to impeach Supreme Court judges on grounds of misconduct or incapacity. A bill on the amendment is expected to be placed in the current session of parliament.

At the discussion, Dr. Kamal Hossain, one of the framers of the constitution, revealed it was not democratic practice when parliament passed an amendment bill immediately after the cabinet hurriedly approved a proposal. Dhaka City Corporation was split in four minutes, which is also against democratic norms, he added.

In 2011, several renowned jurists, including Dr. Hossain, and some former chief justices gave their opinions to the parliamentary standing committee on the law ministry, suggesting that the Supreme Judicial Council, having authority to probe allegations against a judge and make recommendations to the president, should be upheld. “But the government in July hurried to bring about the 16th amendment to scrap the authority of the Supreme Judicial Council and confer the power on parliament, though it had many urgent tasks pending at the time,” Dr. Kamal said.

“Why was the move made so hastily?”

“Parliament was given such power in 1972 considering that it was neutral,” the jurist said, and then raised the question whether parliament had become impartial in the last 43 years since independence. “To ensure transparency in the appointment of judges, the government should frame guidelines determining how judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court,” asserted Dr. Kamal. “Necessary amendments to the constitution should be brought about after an evaluation of performance of the House and the Supreme Judicial Council,” he added. Dr. Kamal also suggested making a law to ensure checks and balances between the authority of the judiciary and the executive.

Justice Amirul Kabir Chowdhury, a former Supreme Court judge, said that the power to impeach judges should remain in the hands of the Supreme Judicial Council and a specific law should be formulated for appointing Supreme Court judges.

Justice Kazi Ebadul Haque, another former Supreme Court judge, who moderated the discussion, said he very often heard allegations against some judges, for which he felt insulted.

He suggested the formation of a committee comprising a senior Appellate Division judge, a senior High Court judge, and a senior lawyer nominated by the Speaker for probing allegations against any judge.

Columnist Syed Abul Moksud said opinions of former chief justices, sitting and former attorney generals, and incumbent and former presidents of the Supreme Court Bar Association could be solicited for determining a system to impeach judges. He urged the government to remove all confusions before restoring 1972’s constitution.

Dr. Asif Nazrul expressed his concern about the shift of impeachment power saying that it could lead to anarchy in the future if the new government wants to impeach all the judges appointed by the former government.

Journalist Mizanur Rahman Khan proposed to increase the power of the Supreme Judicial Council before handing over the power of impeachment to the judges to the parliament.

Brigadier General (ret.) and former election commissioner, M. Shakhawat Hossain, Professor Dilara Chowdhury, former teacher at Jahangirnagar University and convener of civil society platform “Nagorik Oikya” Mahmudur Rahman Manna, also spoke at the program.


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