16th Amendment passed to restore Parliament’s power to sack judges

MPs have passed the 16th Amendment to Bangladesh's Constitution mandating Parliament to investigate and sack top judges on the grounds of incapability and misconduct.

Moinul Hoque ChowdhurySumon Mahbub, , Shahidul Islam and Sajidul Haquebdnews24.com
Published : 17 Sept 2014, 05:13 PM
Updated : 24 May 2017, 11:00 PM

The ‘Constitution (16th Amendment) Bill-2014’ was passed unanimously during Wednesday’s session amid objection from senior lawyers and the BNP, which had stayed off the general election and is now out of Parliament.

The bill, placed by Law Minister Anisul Huq in the evening, was passed late at night with Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in the chair.

Both Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Opposition Leader Raushon Ershad were present when the bill was passed by both voice and division votes.

Results of division votes announced by the speaker showed that 327 votes, including those from the ruling Awami League and its allies and opposition Jatiya Party, were in favour of passing the bill and there were no vote against it.

After a gazette is published following the president’s approval, the amendment will come into effect.

Now, Parliament will be able to remove judges if allegations of incapability or misconduct against them are proved, a power lawmakers had enjoyed only for four years after independence.

In line with the 16th Amendment, a new law will be introduced to guide the investigation and gathering of evidence over the allegations against a judge.

The law minister has already made it clear that the law will be formulated within three months of the amendment.

The Awami League-led government had brought the 15th Amendment in 2011. The Awami League now has brought the latest amendment nine months after coming to power for a second consecutive term.

The Bill was tabled in Parliament on Sept 7 after the Cabinet approved it on Aug 18.

The BNP has been alleging the government was pushing through the bill to keep the judiciary under perpetual pressure.

The party on Wednesday also announced that it will abrogate all constitutional amendments done during the immediate past and present Awami League regimes if it is voted to power again.

Some senior lawyers suspect that the government has another motive for making haste in passing the bill without proper scrutiny even though they believe it is not necessary now.

But Suranjit Sengupta, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliament Affairs, has been saying that the BNP and these lawyers were criticising without having a clear understanding of the issue and were creating confusion.

“We are only restoring an article of the 1972 Constitution. Parliament won’t impeach or remove judges. It will only approve results of investigations finding them guilty," he had said.

The senior Awami League leader, who was a member of the 1972 Constitution drafting committee, said that the amendment was being brought to ensure the judiciary's freedom and dignity and strengthen its safety.

Back to Parliament

Through this latest amendment, the power to remove judges has returned to Parliament after 40 years.

The first Constitution of Bangladesh in 1972 had given Parliament the jurisdiction to settle the tenure of top judges and decide about their removal.
In 1975, the president was vested with the power through the Fourth Amendment.
After Ziaur Rahman began his military rule, he revoked this amendment and formed a Supreme Judicial Council following an order to enforce the impeachment rule.
The issue of reviving this authority came into focus after the Awami League took office in the last term.
The matter was also discussed in 2011 when the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was underway, although the article was not restored.
In 2012, some MPs called for the removal of a High Court judge after a series of events around the remark of the then speaker and current President Md Abdul Hamid.
At that time, the demand for restoring the legislative power to remove judges got serious backing.
After it was tabled in Parliament on Sept 7, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliament Affairs was given a week to screen the bill and submit a report.
The committee submitted its report with recommendations on Sunday.
It also dropped the bill's 'long' preamble and brought changes to the goals and purposes.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher