Cabinet okays charter change to empower Parliament to impeach judges

Cabinet meeting

Cabinet meeting

A Cabinet meeting on Monday chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the ‘Constitution (16th Amendment) Act, 2014′. Cabinet Secretary Md Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters later that the draft of the Act got its final approval from the Cabinet.

He said the provision in Article 96 of the 1972 Constitution is being brought back by the amendment. It allows Parliament to impeach Supreme Court judges for proven offences or incapability by the vote of a two-thirds majority.

However, the Fifth Amendment, which bestowed a Supreme Judicial Council the power to remove judges, will be dropped, according to Bhuiyan.

Law minister Anisul Huq said the Bill will be passed during the next Parliament session starting from Sept 1, adding a law, stipulating the process of impeaching, will be made within three months of its passage.

The BNP, however, said the move was aimed to establish ‘one-party rule’. The 1972 Constitution had such provisions, empowering Parliament to decide on the Supreme Court judges’ tenure and impeach them. The Fourth Amendment in 1974 gave the impeachment power to the president.

After military ruler Ziaur Rahman usurped state power, the Fourth Amendment was annulled and a Supreme Judicial Council was formed following an order to enforce the impeachment rule.

“Article 96 was amended through a military ordinance. The power was bestowed on a Supreme Judicial Council. It was done in absence of a Parliament in 1978,” the cabinet secretary told the briefing.

According to Section 2 of Article 96 of the 1972 Constitution, a Supreme Court judge could be removed for proven offences or incapability by the vote of a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

Article 96’s section 3 said Parliament will be able to control the investigation process of a judge’s offences or incapability by law and section 4 stipulated that a judge can render his wilful resignation to the President.

The cabinet secretary said the Article 96 of the Constitution will be replaced by these sections of the 1972 Constitution.

The law ministry’s legislative and parliamentary affairs division proposed the amendment. It said the law to form a Supreme Judicial Council contradicts the Constitution’s Article 7.

“The decision by the Council may be questionable as an accused judge and the council members worked in the same organisation for a long time. Other than that, Parliament can impeach the president and the speaker. Section 2 of the Constitution’s Article 57 also allows removal of the prime minister,” said Bhuiyan.

The law ministry’s proposal portrays such provisions in other democratic countries and recommended reinstatement of the original article of the 1972 Constitution, according to Bhuiyan.

“The law allowing a Supreme Judicial Council will not exist anymore if article 96 of the 1972 Constitution is brought back,” said the cabinet secretary.

He added the draft approved by Cabinet will be tabled in Parliament as a bill. A law will be made after its passage, which will stipulate the process of impeaching a Supreme Court judge in detail.

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