Wednesday, December 7

President signs 16th amendment bill Breaking

News Desk: President Abdul Hamid has given consent to the 16th constitution amendment bill that empowers the parliament to remove Supreme Court judges for misbehaviour and incapacity.

The approval came five days after the parliament unanimously passed the amendment bill, according to the Parliament Secretariat.

On September 17, the parliament passed the bill rejecting all calls for soliciting public opinion and bringing some changes to the bill.
Today, the BNP-led 20-party alliance enforced the hartal protesting the 16th constitutional amendment.

The passage was bizarre, though, in that the opposition and the ruling alliance MPs, who themselves had moved the motions for soliciting public view and incorporating some changes, also voted in favour of the bill.

Twenty-two lawmakers belonging to the Jatiya Party, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Workers Party, Bangladesh Nationalist Front and the independent camp had moved those motions over the past few days. Fifteen of them had also placed motions for including some provisions in the bill.

But on September 17, Raushan Ershad, leader of the opposition, HM Ershad, chief of the main opposition JP, along with some of their party colleagues voted against their own proposals.

 The proposals included formation of a judicial appointment commission to formulate guidelines for appointing SC judges and setting up an inquiry commission to investigate allegations against the apex court judges.

“The House must get back the power [to impeach SC judges]. But the bill should not be passed hurriedly. We are requesting the law minister to take back the bill and place it again after soliciting the public opinion,” Raushan Ershad had told parliament earlier.

They all defended the bill, contradicting their previous positions.

All the proposals were rejected in voice vote (327 to 0) as the ruling AL refused to accept any.  With the passage, the existing constitutional provision for the chief justice-led Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) introduced in 1978 to remove SC judges is now abolished.

Upon recommendation of a parliamentary committee, the House in an unprecedented move scrapped the original preamble of the bill as it had distorted facts.

It replaced the seven-paragraph long preamble with a one-paragraph preamble as recommended by the parliamentary standing committee on the law ministry.

It also rejected the law minister’s statement attached to the copies of the bill on the same ground, and incorporated the modified statement prepared by the committee.

The House got back this power after around four decades. However, it will not be able to exercise it until a separate law is enacted outlining the procedure for investigating alleged misbehavior or incapacity of the SC judges.

The law minister earlier said the law would be enacted in three months of the passage of the bill.

The 1972 constitution empowered parliament with this authority. But the House was unable to exercise the power as the then government did not formulate any law. Rather, the then AL-led government curtailed the power through the fourth amendment to the constitution in January 1975.

Then military ruler Gen Ziaur Rahman introduced the SJC, amending the constitution through a martial law order which was ratified by the fifth amendment to the constitution in 1979.

The High Court in 2005 declared the fifth amendment illegal and void. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in 2010 upheld the HC verdict, but condoned the introduction of the SJC until December 2012.

The AL-led government, however, introduced afresh the SJC through the 15th amendment to the charter in 2011.

But the government changed its mind within three years. Its move to empower parliament to remove SC judges has drawn huge criticism from different quarters. Many jurists and opposition political parties fear the latest amendment will pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
Defending the amendment, Law Minister Anisul Hoque yesterday said the judiciary’s independence would not be undermined in any way. He also criticised those opposing the amendment.

Placed in parliament on September 7, the bill was passed in around three and a half hours.