Vol. 5 Num 893 Fri. December 01, 2006  
Front Page

3 Writ Petitions with SC Against Iajuddin, EC
CJ's unprecedented stay order before ruling sparks violence

In an unprecedented move, the chief justice yesterday stayed the proceedings of writ petitions challenging the legality of the president's taking over as chief adviser and his "unilateral" decisions, just minutes before a High Court bench was supposed to issue a ruling on them.

Shocked by the order, lawyers and those who were present in the courtroom burst into anger and vandalised different sections of the Supreme Court (SC) and set fire to the vehicle of former state minister for law Shahjahan Omar.

Hearing the matter for two days, the High Court (HC) bench yesterday decided to pass a ruling at 2:00pm. But as the court sat, Attorney General AJ Mohammad Ali handed the stay order to the HC bench at 2:15pm.

The bench read out that Chief Justice Syed JR Mudassir Husain has stayed further proceedings of the writ petitions and left the courtroom.

Legal experts said no incident ever took place in the history of the HC in which the chief justice issued a stay order before the bench even admitted a petition. The chief justice can only stay a case after the HC bench issues any ruling, they said.

Even if a stay order is to be issued, it was to come from the chamber judge, not the chief justice, explained constitution expert Dr Kamal Hossain.

Accusing the chief justice of violating his oath and the constitution, the leaders of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) announced an indefinite agitation programme from Sunday to force removal of the chief justice and attorney general.

Amidst the chaos, all judges shut themselves inside their offices fearing an escalation of the violence.

Protest against the chief justice's order was also voiced from other parts of the capital, especially at a mass rally of the Awami League-led 14-party alliance, its allies and a few other political parties during their sit-in programme around Bangabhaban.

Law enforcers beefed up security in and around the Supreme Court as aggrieved lawyers geared up for street protest.

The stay came at a time when most political parties except those of the BNP-led four-party alliance were increasing agitation demanding the president's resignation as chief adviser. They blamed President Iajuddin for repeatedly violating oath by "implementing the four-party alliance's agenda".

Eleven leaders of the 14-party alliance, Jatiya Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Zaker Party and Islamic Front filed three petitions with the HC on Sunday, challenging the legality of the president's taking over as the chief adviser, his "unilateral" decisions, and the Election Commission's move to declare election schedule.

Hearings of the writ petitions were held for two days by an HC division bench comprising justices M Awlad Ali and Mainul Islam Chowdhury.

As the bench began its proceedings at 10:55am yesterday, Attorney General Mohammad Ali appealed to hear the petitions at a larger bench.

Petitioners' counsel Dr Kamal Hossain told journalists that the AG had told the court that the "small bench" does not have the jurisdiction to judge any action of the president, no matter what he does.

Dr Kamal opposed the appeal, saying the question of hearing the matter at a larger bench does not arise before issuance of any ruling and formally admitting the matter before the court. The matter is still in a premature stage, he argued, adding that there is no instance of forming a larger bench at such stage.

Echoing Dr Kamal's contentions, another counsel for the petitioners, Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud, told the court that it might be a "plot" to frustrate the writ petitions. "Earlier, the attorney general had made attempts time and again to defer the hearing," he said.

Mohammad Ali, however, said there are previous instances [of larger benches].

Dr Kamal challenged the attorney general, who sought time until 2:00pm to present examples.

"The court asked the attorney general to produce the examples when it resumes at 2:00pm, saying it would dispose off his application and deliver its ruling then," Dr Kamal told reporters.

When the court resumed at 2:15pm, Mohammad Ali rushed in with three applications for staying the proceedings of the writ petitions and submitted them before the presiding judge. He did not serve any copy of the applications to the petitioners' counsels, the petitioners' lawyers told reporters later at a press briefing.

The court offered the petitioners' lawyers a look at the attorney general's applications, but they said they could not look at them since the applications had not been served on them.

After examining the applications, the chief justice announced the stay order on further proceedings of the writ petitions and withdrew from the court.

The aggrieved lawyers of the petitioners locked in arguments with the pro-BNP lawyers in the courtroom.

As soon as the court withdrew, the petitioners' lawyers raised a hue and cry inside the courtroom, saying the chief justice cannot stay the process as the matter has not been formally admitted before the court and no ruling has been issued.

As the lawyers attempted to seek interpretation from Mohammad Ali and former law minister Moudud Ahmed, the two rushed out of the courtroom fearing trouble.

The petitioners' lawyers attempted to stop them, but pro-BNP lawyers escorted them hurriedly to their cars and they left the court premises.

At 2:30pm, the angry lawyers rushed to the chamber and office of Chief Justice Mudassir Husain to ask him how such an order, "which had no precedence", could be passed.

Finding that the chief justice had already left the court premises, they vandalised his chamber and office.

They also rushed to the office of the attorney general but police prevented them. They broke the windowpanes of the offices of the attorney general and the SC registrar.

The aggrieved lawyers chanted slogans against the chief justice and attorney general.

At the judges' lounge of the Appellate Division they asked the other judges present there to go out and vandalised it.

Finding a flag in the car of Shahjahan Omar parked on the SC premises, a few protesters vandalised and set fire to it at 2:45pm.

Police arrived on the SC premises 20 minutes later and chased the marauding crowd and took control of the situation. Fire fighters also reached there at 3:12pm and doused the fire.

The agitators also beat up the cameramen of private satellite television channels ntv and Baishakhi and snatched the videocassette from Channel 1 cameraman.

Meantime, briefing reporters at Bangladesh-China Friendship Conference Centre on the sidelines of lawyers' meeting with BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, former law minister Moudud Ahmed said the CJ has stayed the hearing on writ petitions in a very "justified way."

He said as the subject is very important and requires constitutional interpretation, it should be heard in a larger bench of the court.

Shahjahan Omar termed the whole incident unfortunate, saying, "There is no example of such vandalism not only in the history of Bangladesh High Court, but also in the subcontinent...My leader [Khaleda Zia] will buy me four cars."

The petitioner's lawyers held a press conference at the SCBA library immediately after the court withdrawal.

"The chief justice does not have the right to stay the proceedings at this stage," said SCBA President Barrister Amir Ul Islam.

At an emergency meeting, SCBA leaders said the chief justice and attorney general have lost all moral authority to continue in their offices. It will be an insult to the state and its citizens to allow them in the republic, they said.

Angry protesters torch the vehicle of former state minister for law Shahjahan Omar on the Supreme Court premises yesterday after the chief justice stayed the proceedings of three writ petitions on the legality of the president's taking charge as chief adviser, his 'unilateral' decisions, and announcement of polls schedule. PHOTO: STAR