Thursday, May 19, 2011

Immediate - Past Chief Justice Raises Unpleasant Questions

THE tentative response of the immediate-past chief justice, Justice ABM Khairul Haque, on Tuesday, to the question whether or not he would take charge of the next caretaker government must have taken many by surprise. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, when talking to journalists after his ceremonial last visit to the Supreme Court, Justice Ahmed said: ‘Time will say who will head the [ next] caretaker government. Law will take its own course.’ The roundabout answer to a reasonably straightforward question appears rather unbecoming of a judge under whose stewardship the Appellate Division declared void the 13 th amendment to the constitution, which made the provision for an election-time caretaker government in the first place. Although the Justice Ahmed- led seven-member bench said the next two general elections could be held under caretaker governments, it specifically suggested that the parliament should, in the meantime, ‘bring necessary amendments excluding the provisions for making the former chief justices or the Appellate Division judges the head of the non-party caretaker government.’ As such, one must have expected Justice Ahmed to respond in the negative to the question for the sake of the dignity of the judiciary. Why the immediate-past chief justice chose to evade a straightforward answer is best known to him; any attempt at discerning the reason would be speculative. However, it may be safely concluded that his evasive answer would undermine the moral stance he took on the issue of caretaker government as the chief justice when issuing the judgement. Moreover, it may give rise to the reinforce the impression that the heightened judicial activism of the apex court under his leadership, which has seen invalidation of the fifth, eighth and finally 13 th amendments to the constitution and is viewed to have generally gone in favour of the Awami League’s interest, may have actually been at the bidding of the ruling party. Besides, given the fact that he will also be in the reckoning for the position of the chief adviser come the next general election and that he was also appointed the chief justice in supersession of the then senior- most judge in the Appellate Division, his tentativeness could be construed as concealed ambition for state power, even if for a brief period of time. On the whole, the immediate-past chief justice seems to have put his personal reputation and integrity and also the credibility of the highest judiciary on the line with his refusal to come up with a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. At one point of his conversation with the journalists on Tuesday, Justice Ahmed said, ‘A good judge can never become popular.’ He was so right because a good judge never hesitate to say the right thing, even if it puts him or her at odds with the power that be. Ironically, on his last visit to the Supreme Court, he chose not to.