Civil society leaders oppose to amend constitution

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rountable_01september14September 1, 2014: A roundtable discussion entitled ‘Amendment to the Constitution: Impeachment of the Judges and its Significance’ organized by SHUJAN-Citizens for Good Governance held at the National Press Club.

Protesting the motion of the incumbent government on constitution amendment and impeachment of judges, speakers said it would be wise to bring the changes immediately.

SHUJAN Secretary Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, who presented a written statement, expressed concern that parliament, would in a similar fashion be given power to remove officials of other constitutional and statutory bodies and that all independent institutions would finally come under the control of the government.
He said questions had been raised if the current parliament had any public representation since it had come into being through a voter less election and 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, SHUJAN Secretary added. A larger section of the lawmakers of the present government is 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 said.

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”, eminent jurist Dr. Kamal Hossain said on the occasion. Public opinion should be solicited in this regard, he said, stressing the need for reaching a consensus through a national dialogue before the House passed any amendment to the charter.

The cabinet on August 18 approved a proposal for amending the constitution to restore parliament’s authority to impeach SC 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, said it was not a democratic practice that 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 him, and some former chief justices gave their opinions to the parliamentary standing committee on the law ministry, suggesting that the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), 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 SJC 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, he said, the government should frame guidelines determining how judges should be appointed to the SC. Necessary amendments to the constitution should be brought about after an evaluation of performance of the House and the SJC, 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 SC 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 SC judges.

Justice Kazi Ebadul Haque, another former SC 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 might create anarchy in 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 Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) before handover the power of impeaching the judges to the parliament.

Brig Gen (retd) M Shakhawat Hossain, former election commissioner; Prof Dilara Chowdhury, a former teacher of Jahangirnagar University; Mahmudur Rahman Manna, convener of civil society platform ‘Nagorik Oikya’ also spoke at the program.

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