Saturday, September 21, 2019

Three High Court judges facing probe, ordered to refrain from judicial activities

  • Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2019-08-22 17:35:02 BdST

bdnews24

Three High Court judges have been temporarily relieved of their judicial duties after an investigation into allegations of professional misconduct against them was initiated.

Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain took the step upon consultation with President Md Abdul Hamid, the Supreme Court authorities said.

The three judges are Justice Salma Masud Chowdhury, Justice AKM Zahirul Hoque and Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque.

Their names did not appear in the Supreme Court’s working schedule for Thursday and they refrained from participating in judicial activities.

The authorities did not specify the charges against them, but Attorney General Mahbubey Alam has said lawyers have long been demanding steps to “uphold the image” of the Supreme Court and keep the judiciary “free from stigma”.

As speculation of the investigation against the three judges began surfacing in the morning, the Supreme Court and the law ministry remained tight-lipped about the matter.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said he was unaware of any such development while the state’s chief legal officer Alam said he had only heard about it.

The move was eventually confirmed by Saifur Rahman, special officer of the High Court Division, in the afternoon.

“In light of a primary probe against the three judges of the High Court, they were told to refrain from their judicial duties upon consultation with the president. And they later applied for leave,” he said.

But the Supreme Court administration official refused to disclose details of the investigation and the names of the judges.

As the journalists mentioned the names of the three judges, the official said: “You’ve already written it.”

Attorney General Alam in a press conference later provided some more information, but did not detail the allegations citing the ongoing investigation.

“The allegations will be known after the investigation. And I think it will not be good for the judiciary to publicise the allegations now. And it totally depends on the president and the chief justice,” he said.

Asked about the names of the judges, he said: “You all know the names, who haven’t been assigned any bench today. So I don’t want to utter the names.”

Asked whether any lawyer or the Supreme Court Bar Association brought the allegations, he said: “The members of the Bar always wanted the judiciary to be free from stigma and uphold its image to the people.” 

“No-one can be above the law. Neither any minister, nor any judge. And not us, the common people. So, today’s move will send a signal to others who cannot conduct themselves properly,” he added.  

HOW THE PROBE WILL BE CONDUCTED?

It is the chief justice who will now decide how the investigation will be conducted as he took the decision on the three judges upon consultation with the president, the attorney general said.

“They will fix what steps should be taken to uphold the judiciary’s image,” he said.

“The lawyers want the court to be above all debates. They don’t want to see anyone facing any allegations,” Alam said. 

A reporter asked whether the move against the three judges is similar to that against former chief justice SK Sinha. 

Attorney General Alam responded with the same answer: “The chief justice has told me that he has taken the decision and the president has given consent.”  

Barrister Amir-Ul Islam, a member of the committee that drafted Bangladesh’s constitution, said taking steps against any top court judge is the Supreme Judicial Council’s authority.

Former president of Supreme Court Bar Association Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said a decision on the judges should not be hasty but it should follow a fully fledged investigation.

The Supreme Court authorities should make it clear as there are “confusions” over the Supreme Judicial Council, Mahbub Hossain said.

“And the chief justice cannot take any decision alone,” he said.

The powers to remove a top court judge for incapability to properly do their duty because of physical or mental reasons, or because of misconduct were vested on parliament after independence.

The Supreme Judicial Council provision was introduced during military ruler Ziaur Rahman's tenure in 1977 for the removal of top judges.

It stated that the Council shall consist of the chief justice and two next senior judges and the Council's function will be to prescribe a code of conduct for the judges and to inquire into the capacity or conduct of a judge.

The president may direct the Council to launch an inquiry if he or she receives information on a judge being incapable of properly doing his duty for physical or mental reasons, or being accused of gross misconduct, according to related clauses.

If the Council finds truth in the information on the judge's incapability or the allegation of misconduct, the president shall order the judge's removal, the clauses state.

Parliament brought back the powers to impeach Supreme Court judges on Sep 17, 2014 by changing Article 96, which is known as the 16th Amendment to the Constitution.

The High Court in 2016 declared the amendment illegal following a writ petition filed by nine Supreme Court lawyers.

The Appellate Division reinstated six clauses of the Article 96 to the constitution, rejecting the state’s appeal against the High Court verdict the following year. 

It also reformulated a 39-point code of conduct amending the one issued last year for the judges in exercise of powers under the article.

The state has filed a petition for a review of the appeals verdict and the petition is awaiting disposal, Mahbubey Alam said.

Asked whether the Supreme Judicial Council is effective now, he said the chief justice would have initiated an investigation along with two next senior judges if the Council were effective. “He wouldn’t have sent an investigation report to the president then,” he said.

Chief Justice Mahmud Hossain also consulted all his colleagues in the Appellate Division, not only the two senior judges next to him, he added.