Bangladesh: Supreme Court rejects Hasina Govt’s draft of code of conduct for lower judiciary

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh yesterday rejected the draft of the disciplinary rules and code of conduct for lower court judges as prepared by the Ministry of Law. Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, who was heading a six-member bench of the Appellate Division, said, “After a meeting with law minister, he [Minister] took a U-turn. The draft has nothing what was suggested. It’s like a government employee code of conduct.” It is clear that Sheikh Hasina Government is trying to prevent the independence of judiciary.

The Chief Justice proposed a meeting with the government to settle the issue and fixed 6th August for next hearing.

Earlier, on 27th July, Law Minister Anisul Huq had submitted the draft rules to Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha.

What do the draft rules say?

As per The Daily Star, the draft rules of code of conduct for lower court judges prepared by the Ministry of Law make the district judges the authority to control the assistant judges. At present, the High Court is the authority to control the lower court judges. Further, the draft rules provide impunity to the Law Ministry officials against prosecution even if any allegation is levelled against them.

 Struggle for separation of the judiciary

The Constitution of 1972 provides for separation of the judiciary from the executive, but the succeeding governments at Dhaka refused to make the judiciary independent. Twenty-five years later, the High Court in May 1997 in a landmark verdict asked the government to separate the judiciary in line with the constitutional provisions. The then Awami League government challenged the judgment before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. In December 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court verdict and issued 12-point directives to the government to separate the judiciary in the Masdar Hossain Case, popularly known as the judiciary separation case. The directives included formation of a separate judicial service commission to take care of the appointment, promotion and transfer of members of the judiciary in consultation with the Supreme Court; a separate judicial service pay commission; amendment of the criminal justice system; and framing of new rules for the selection and discipline of members of the judiciary.

But both Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led governments from 1999 to 2006 refused to do anything. Finally, the caretaker government in November 2007 officially separated the judiciary from the executive.

However, the separation process could not be completed without the gazette notification on the rules determining the discipline and code of conducts for lower court judges.

On 7th May 2015, the Ministry of Law submitted the draft of the code of conduct of the lower court judges to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court revised the draft by curtailing the Law Ministry’s control over the lower judiciary and sent it back to the government for approval. But the government repeatedly asked for more time to issue the gazette notification. So far the government has taken 22 times from the apex court for issuing the gazette notification.

On 23rd July, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court gave the government one more week for issuing the gazette notification. Following this, the draft rules were submitted on 27th July but the draft rules do not provide for independence of the lower judiciary.

Earlier, on 3rd June, a seven-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in a stinging blow to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s attempt to establish one-party rule in the country, declared the 16th Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh that empowered the parliament to impeach apex court judges, as null and void. Upholding a previous High Court judgment, Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha dismissed the appeal of the Government. In what appears to be a case of scandalising the judgment of the Supreme Court, Attorney-General Mahbubey Alam expressed his “frustration” over the judgment and invoked the 1971 freedom of struggle and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s sacrifice to question the judgment.

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