It’s not just Sinha who is responsible for the mess

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The judicial system of Bangladesh is not in a good shape. From a position of respect it has fallen into disrepute.  It’s not limited to the Sinha episode which is not just sleazy but has exposed the weakness of the entire system in general.

Key is equitable justice and ensuring access for all. If the system is weak, there will be exclusion. How should one address it when the conflict is between not just individuals and institutions but also between the state/government and the people. The Sinha episode shows how the system is less able than we think.

Sordid Sinha

The Sinha episode is sordid and should never have happened. Somebody had the responsibility to ensure that the person who was headed for the highest judicial seat in the country was not a person who was into selling court decisions. Its fine now to say all kinds of nasty things about Sinha but where were you when he was being vetted for the post of Justice and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

Perhaps, such people seeing the interest of the government to hire him for the job didn’t do their job properly or deliberately kept quiet in view of official intent. Or maybe as some are suggesting, they knew fully well that Sinha was not clean   but preferred to keep quiet thinking that the information could be used one day against him if need be.

All three scenario are quite repugnant to the interest of the republic and as events now show, the conflict between the Executive and the Judiciary descended to an ugly fight between people in power in various branches of the state. It ended very badly with the Judiciary damaged and public confidence in the system reduced. The ugly confrontation displayed that the age of sanctity of  state institutions was almost over. The drama that took weeks if not months has prolonged the injury.

But as we have mentioned earlier, blaming Sinha alone is very inaccurate. Everyone who was involved in every aspect of the Sinha episode is responsible for the damage done.

A yet more pertinent question however unpleasant lies waiting? Are rest of the Supreme Judiciary safe, healthy and clean? Given the Sinha episode, can we be guaranteed that we will not have a surprise spring upon us if a politico-legal crisis hits us? Will we then to our dismay discover that the presiding judges or judges not worthy of the seat? Can we survive another body blow to the judiciary which is already badly wounded?

The fundamentals of the crisis

We should not forget that the matter which generated the crisis was a deeply fundamental issue that centred around the supremacy of a institution over the other as per the constitution. It goes to areas quite frankly which doesn’t concern ordinary people in general.  It’s about who will have the final word, about whom, the legislature or the judiciary on matters pertaining to the judiciary.

Sinha took a confrontational position on matters of the powers of the judiciary arguing that the Executive had usurped its authority and was imposing itself on the judiciary. So he spoke publicly against the Executive, refused reconciliation and ultimately came the amendment which led to the confrontation.

In this confrontation, he didn’t win as the powers of the Executive backed by the Legislature combined to deal him a blow. As per Sinha , he was forced out from his office by the state security agencies which was common but unconfirmed rumour during his departure days and now stated in his book.

The Government hasn’t exactly denied the allegations but has gone on to say that Sinha is corrupt and the ACC is already investigating him and some evidence has been found they claim. His family and close circle friends are also being looked into. That Sinha was not clean is not exactly a secret after his tumultuous departure and the allegations were made public even before he left. It doesn’t add much to the already damaged reputation of Sinha. It however looks like a less savvy damage control than warranted.

The call to find out the names of Sinha’s associates who helped him write the book is no help either. It’s not about the issues people including those in power are talking about. It’s about whether those responsible for running the state were and are responsible enough to look after the intuitions who are oath bound to do so.

Ultimately the issue is much bigger than whether Sinha left with a bag of money or who poked a gun in his ribs and made him resign. It’s about the role of formal institutions including the judiciary and other institutions in a state fundamentally informal.

  • It’s not just Sinha who is responsible for the mess
  • Issue 14
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35

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