Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was born in 1930 in village Pamal of Kendua in the greater Mymensingh district. His father late Talukder Risat A. Bhuiyan was a renowned social worker and philanthropist of the locality. After passing the Matriculation and intermediate examinations he took admission into the Dhaka University in 1948, obtained B.A. (Hons) in Economics in 1951 and M.A. in International Relations in 1952 as a resident student of Fazlul Haq Hall.
He entered the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) in 1954 through a competitive examination, completed training in the Lahore Civil Service Academy and in the United Kingdom. He attended a special course in Public Administration in University of Oxford. He was Sub-Divisional Officer of Gopalganj and Natore. For his administrative ability, Natore was adjudged as one of the best administered Subdivisions of the country. He was Additional Deputy Commissioner of Faridpur. For his efficient management of revenue affairs and land settlement matters he earned high appreciation from the Board of Revenue, in particular, from its senior member Mr. Hatch Barnwell.
Mr. Shahabuddin was transferred to the judicial branch in 1960. He worked as Additional District and Session Judge of Dhaka and Barisal, and as District and Sessions Judge of Comilla and Chittagong. He also served as Registrar of the High Court of the then East Pakistan. He was elevated to the Bench of the High Court on 20 January 1972. Acted on deputation at the Labour Appellate Tribunal for two years, 1973 and 1974. In that connection, he attended a number of international conferences and seminars on Labour Law, Social Security Legislations, Labour Management Relations and Productivity, in particular, he attended a Round Table Conference on Labour in Geneva and another in Silva de Fesano (Italy).
He was Chairman, Bangladesh Red Cross Society, from August 1978 to April 1982 in addition to his duties as Judge of the Supreme Court. As Chief Executive of the Red Cross Society, he reorganized and, particularly rebuilt the society and enhanced its image in the sphere of International Red Cross and earned applause for the society’s successful implementation of a number of emergency relief operations and cyclone preparedness programme. He set up a number of Rural Hospitals Maternity Centres, in particular, the Teligati Red Cross Hospital (Netrakona) which is financed by the Swiss Red Cross. He represented Bangladesh Red Cross Society in a number of international conferences and seminars which included, among others, the Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of the Islamic countries (OIC) in Benghazi (Libya), a seminar on Red Cross and Primary Health Care in Frunze, Kirghizi (USSR), International Red Cross Conference in Jakarta and Manila, He was a member of the Bangladesh Government delegation to the 10th Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Islamic countries (OIC) held in Fez, Morocco in 1979 where the question of setting up an International Islamic Red Crescent Society was debated. He visited various Red Cross Societies Institutions of North Korea, China and Japan on invitations of the Red Cross Societies of North Korea, China and Japan in 1981. On his initiative the Family Planning and Population Control was included in the main function of the Bangladesh Red Cross.
He was appointed a Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on 7 February 1980 and was confirmed in this office on 15 April 1981. He reputed to be a strong disciplinarian and hardworking officer all through and his disposal of cases in all branches of law is one of the highest in the country. A great number of his decisions have been reported in the Dhaka Law Reports, Bangladesh Legal Decisions and Bangladesh Case reports. In service matters’ election disputes and Labour-Management Relation, some of his judgments and observation have been highly appreciated. His decision on the 8th Amendment of the Constitution of Bangladesh was hailed as a ‘landmark’ in the constitutional development of the country. There, among other things, he criticized the tendency of the Third World Dictatorships to abrogate Constitutions for self-aggrandizement and coterie rule under the thin veil of democracy, for curtailing fundamental rights of citizens, violation of human rights, challenge to people’s sovereignty and denial of the independence of judiciary and substituting rule by Flat for rule of Law. He also deplored for curtailing the traditional powers of the High Court regarding appointment, promotion, transfer, leave and control of subordinate judiciary by the Executive Branch of the Government.
He was the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry established under the Commission of Inquiry Act on police firing on, student in mid-February of 1983. He was Chairman of the National Pay Commission in 1984 and submitted a report on the basis of which upward revision of pay scale was made.
As Chief Justice he attended the International Appellate Judges Conference in Washington DC in September 1990. Justice Shahabuddin took charge as Acting President of Bangladesh on 6th December 1990. He resigned on 9 October,’91. He resumed as Chief Justice on 10 October 1991. Chief Justice Mr. Shahabuddin Ahmed retired from service on 1 February 1995.
On 23 July 1996 Mr. Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was elected unopposed as the President of the country. He was sworn-in the office of the President on 9 October 1996.