The case is regarding Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir’s election to Parliament in the last parliamentary election. He is being represented by Barrister Rokonuddin Mahmud. Under a law enacted during the last military-caretaker government, a convicted person could not contest in the election, which Barrister Mahmud is trying to evade. This following exchange takes place between him and the judges hearing the case:
Court: What if we declared the entire military-caretaker government illegal?
Mahmud: (with some concern) That would make the last general election illegal as well.
Court: So what? It would give a nice jolt like the Fifth Amendment verdict.
Mahmud: We don’t want that, and we won’t be making that argument.
The Fifth Amendment verdict, along with the ones handed down by Chief Justice Khairul Huq, including the one cancelling the caretaker system (which has still not been written), did give Bangladesh quite a jolt. Who are the members of the bench wanting to make things even more exciting for our countrymen? The senior member is Justice Shamshuddin Chowdhury Manik, last seen throwing a tantrum in a Biman airplane and threatening to convene a court right there and then unless he was upgraded to Business Class despite having only a Economy Class ticket. The junior member is Justice Jahangir Hossain, who is a nephew of Zillur Rahman, the President of Bangladesh, and earlier used that piece of serendipity to grab the plum posting of Dhaka District Judge, superseding about two hundred judges with more experience. The normally supportive Mizanur Rahman Khan wrote a scathing article in Prothom Alo about Hossain’s shenanigans, which was titled: “The Judicial System is Collapsing.” Not that any of it mattered, Jahangir Hossain was duly elevated to the High Court, probably as Manik’s perfect foil.
Let us turn to another court appearance a few days before that. Three individuals who were accused in the sensational Lokman Hossain murder case, including the brother of the Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju, the current Telecommunications Minister, appear in front of another High Court bench, composed of Justices Syed Mohammed Dastagir Hossain and Gobindra Chandra Thakur. This following dialogue ensues, with Advocate Anisul Huq representing the defendants:
Court: It is an exception to see such a popular mayor being assassinated like this. Will our country run out of good men soon?
Huq: We wouldn’t have come to you, but the situation is bad. Please give us bail for thirty days.
Court: We have tried, but we cannot grant you bail. Our conscience will not allow it.
Where to begin here? First off, do Bangladesh’s judges remember their roles, or do they think that they are the heroes in some Bollywood movie? For the crime of murder, it does not matter if the victim is an elected official, or a popular leader, or an unknown person no one has heard of and no one mourns. The standard is the same, if that standard is met, then the defendants automatically get bail, otherwise not. And where does the judge’s conscience come into all this? In many areas of law, there is a considerable role for ambiguity and discretion. But obtaining a bail is not one of them. There is a straight-forward standard, and a person either deserves bail or does not. And none deserves to see play-acting in our highest courts.
A country can probably have stability if its generals don’t know how to make war, its scientists cannot innovate, or its bankers spend their days in profligate behavior. It cannot have stability if its jurists don’t understand law. Bangladesh’s immediate past Chief Justice Khairul Huq quoted salus republicae est suprema lex – the safety of the state is the highest law – in handing down two of his most controversial decisions, even though nothing could be further from the truth. The safety of the state may be ensured if political opponents are arrested and tortured, or if political dissidents are kidnapped and killed, but the law can never countenance such. Bangladesh may get the leaders we deserve, but its people deserve better judges than these.