The BNP yesterday alleged that Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha was forced to refrain from carrying out his duties on the pretext of illness.
“Having failed to get a judgment [in 16th amendment case] in its favour, the government has forced him to go on leave,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir claimed at a press briefing at the party's Nayapaltan headquarters.
“We condemn such an action by the government against the chief justice of the country,” Fakhrul said, giving the party's formal reaction for the first time since the CJ went on a month's leave on Tuesday.
The BNP leader also urged the office of the CJ to come up with an explanation about his leave and illness.
However, Law Minister Anisul Huq has insisted there is “no scope of doing politics” over the issue.
"Sickness is someone's personal matter. When you talk about someone's personal matter, it infringes his privacy. I would like to say that he is sick and there is no scope of doing politics here," he told reporters at his office yesterday, hours after the BNP reaction.
Today, senior lawyers and members of the Supreme Court Bar Association led by its President Zainul Abedin will go to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to inquire about the condition of the CJ.
They will also seek help from the SC to know the whereabouts of Justice Sinha, Zainul told reporters yesterday.
Over the last few months, Justice Sinha faced a barrage of criticisms from several senior ministers and Awami League leaders over the 16th amendment verdict, scrapping the constitutional amendment that had empowered parliament to remove SC judges for misconduct or incapacity.
Some ministers and ruling party men even accused the CJ of undermining parliament and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and demanded that he quit.
BNP PRESS BRIEFING
Ever since the unanimous verdict scrapping the 16th amendment to the constitution came out, the head of the government, ministers, ruling party leaders and their allies have been criticising the top court and its judges using a language that is unconstitutional, illogical and coarse, said Fakhrul.
“Even, the language that was used in parliament to slam the apex court and its judges is not only unprecedented, it is also unusual,” he said, reading out from a statement.
He added the government set a “despicable example” of forcing the most senior judge of the country to go on leave.
The CJ has just returned from Canada and Japan, but there is no information that he took any treatment there. Also, the CJ went to his office on Sunday and signed some important files, he said.
But suddenly the law minister and the attorney general told the media on Monday that Justice Sinha went on leave due to illness, he added.
However, the same evening an SCBA delegation led by its president and secretary went to the CJ's residence to meet him. A police officer told the delegation that the the CJ was fine but he could not talk, Fakhrul said.
“This proves that he is not sick but has been sent on forced leave,” he claimed.
The law minister said it was “unfortunate” that the BNP was making such claims.
Asked whether the CJ was under house arrest, he said, "Absolutely not, absolutely not."
About his whereabouts, Anisul Huq said, "As far as I know, he is staying in his residence and he is sick. A doctor visited him at his residence yesterday [Tuesday] and is also scheduled to visit him today [yesterday]."
But why did not anyone from the government visited the “ailing” CJ?
"I've contacted the physician and I'll definitely visit him when I get clearance from the doctor … A cancer patient needs time to get well.”
Replying to another question, he said it was Justice Sinha's personal matter why he did not go to a hospital. “I can't tell you anything about this. I can just tell you I'll visit him soon."
The minister also read out before reporters the letter the CJ had sent to the president seeking his leave.
"This is for your kind information that I have been suffering from many physical problems. Earlier, I had been under treatment for long as a cancer patient. Now, I'm suffering from various physical complications and I need rest to gain physical fitness. So, I want to enjoy a 30-day leave from October 3 to November 1."
Responding to another query about the CJ's absence from Tuesday's Supreme Court programme, Anisul posed a counter question, "Is it my responsibility to explain the matter? He went to his office. Please tell me if the government created any obstruction to the programme."
Asked about a news report that the CJ would be going abroad soon, he said, “I don't know.”
Meanwhile, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam warned against any kind of “speculations” regarding Justice Sinha's leave.
“There is no scope of doing politics over a judge's leave,” he said.
Replying to a question, he said, “It's not my duty to know the whereabouts of the chief justice. My duty is to conduct cases. Overenthusiastic people can look for it…. I am not anyone's guard.”
SCBA RAISE QUESTIONS AGAIN
Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Zainul Abedin yesterday once again raised questions over the “sudden leave” of the CJ.
Justice Sinha had invited lawyers to a programme on Tuesday but went on leave from that day without informing them, which is unprecedented, he said.
"Now the government is telling that he went on leave as he has been suffering from cancer. If he is suffering from cancer and if that is the reason for his taking leave, he was supposed to inform the Bar. This is the convention between the Bench and the Bar," he told reporters at his office today.
Earlier on Tuesday, the SCBA held an emergency meeting and later said the CJ was forced to take leave.