More than two million cases are lying pending now in different courts of the country. Under existing procedure two decades may be required to dispose of those cases. Some 4,946 cases are awaiting disposal in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, 1,27,244 cases in the High Court Division and the rest in lower courts. There are thousands of cases which have not been settled even in more than 10 years. In such a situation litigants are suffering for the unending delay in disposing of cases.
Professor of Law department at the University of Chittagong and currently acting chairman of the Bangladesh Law Commission Dr M Shah Alam in his book 'A Possible Way out of Backlog in Our Judiciary' said: "Delay in our judiciary has reached a point where it has become a factor of injustice, a violator of human rights. Praying for justice, the parties become part of a long, protracted and torturing process, not knowing when it will end. Where it should take one to two years for the disposal of a civil suit, a case is dragged for 10 to 15 years, or even more. By the time judgement is pronounced the need for the judgement in certain cases is no more required."
The formal justice system in the country is under tremendous pressure with much workload and inadequate number of officials and staff to dispose of cases. As a result, the case backlogs add up to the existing pending cases.
Long delay creates a negative impact on the rural poor and vulnerable group of people who cannot afford the expenses involving the cases and do not have clear understanding of how to get access to justice in the upper courts on some issues that could be easily resolved at the local level.
Under the prevailing situation the Local Government Division (LGD), the UNDP and the European Commission jointly have undertaken a programme titled 'Activating Village Courts in Bangladesh' for providing support to the system through this project in 500 selected Union Parishads (UP) of the judicial country. It also intends to develop capacity of the village court members, elected representatives and support staff. Motivation programme will be carried out in order to sensitise all concerned on the role and functions of village courts and their benefits on the judiciary.
It's a very good move as Village Courts will resolve disputes locally without sending the both sides of a case to district courts. Here government should make some amendment so that Village Courts can hold trial of a dispute involving a sum up to of Tk 50 thousands. Now village courts can handle cases of Tk 5,000 only. It is a very small amount. So, the government should increase the amount immediately. Similarly Magistrate courts can handle cases up of Tk 0.1 million only. Such court should be empowered to settle cases up to Tk 2.0 million.
The government is actively considering mandatory application of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) method alongside the existing judicial system by bringing amendments to civil and criminal procedure codes to dispose of the pending cases.
Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed informed this while responding to a question in the Jatiya Sangsad in March this year.
The minister said although the ADR system is very much in place in the country, there is no directive to enforce the same mandatory. So, the government is actively considering mandatory application of the method by bringing amendments to the civil and criminal procedure codes, he added.
Barrister Shafique expressed the hope that it would be possible to implement the system very soon with a view to reducing pressure of civil and criminal cases on different courts across the country.
Unfortunately government failed to launch the system in last nine months. Government can apply ADR system in upazilas and small towns first and it should be done without further delay. Retired judges, magistrates and lawyers need to be involved in the ADR system. Then it would be possible to bring some changes if required before launching the system in big cities.
Ain O Salish Kendra (Law and trial centre) of Advocate Sultana Kamal and BLAST are doing a good job to resolve the disputes of the poor through an ADR-like method.
President Zillur Rahman has urged newly appointed Chief Justice Mohammad Fazlul Karim to expedite process of disposing of the pending cases.
What is unfortunate is that no pragmatic steps have been taken to resolve the problem.
The situation is so acute that the proverb - Justice delayed justice denied - seems applicable in the case of Bangladesh judiciary.
Government can improve the situation within shortest possible time if it takes up some decisions and implement those immediately. The suggestions are:
a. Enforcement of one-day holiday: The judicial offices still enjoy two-day weekly holiday despite the fact that the number of unresolved cases is increasing alarmingly day by day. Unnecessary long vacations worsen the situation. The Supreme Court remains closed for one month as summer vacation and at least for 15 days as winter vacation. The District Judge courts remain closed for the whole month of December.
Government medical colleges and educational institutions remain open on Saturdays. So, what is the problem in keeping the judicial offices open on Saturdays?
Government should cancel the two-day holiday for the judicial offices as soon as possible and reduce the Supreme Court and District Judge courts' vacations to help trim the number of backlog cases faster.
b. Application of ADR: ADR system can be very much effective to reduce the number of pending cases. I think more than half of the pending cases can be settled through this method as most people would prefer solution of their pending cases in the shortest possible time. So, it is the crying need to introduce the system as soon as possible.
c. Filling up of all vacant posts: Government should fill up all the vacant posts in judiciary so that full capacity can be used to dispose of cases as much as possible.
The present government of Sheikh Hasina, after coming into the power, initially appointed 17 Judges in the High Court. An investigating report of the country's largest circulated national daily revealed that out of 17 Judges nine had third class in LLB Exams and 13 had third class in more than one public exams in their life. It means that as students they belonged C category. Can they deliver up to the expectation as judges?
On the other hand, during Hasina government's current tenure, 220 Assistant Judges (judges in the lower tier of the judiciary) were appointed by the independent Public Service Commission (PSC). None of the 220 Assistant Judges had third class in their life. Rather, all of them had more than one First Class in the public exams.
So, it is very important to appoint the right persons as judges so that they can handle the cases prudently. If proper judgements are pronounced then litigants won't opt for appeals. Thus judges will get more time to settle the normal cases and it would be possible to reduce the number of pending cases gradually.
d. Stop filing of false political cases: Filing of false cases against political opponents has become a normal practice by the party in power. Genuine cases do not go to the cause list serially as trials of such less important political cases are finished on priority basis. Trial takes time. Thus number of backlog of cases always go upward as new cases are filed every day. If government stops filing such political cases then it would be possible for the courts to concentrate on normal cases.
The writer is shift in-charge of the news desk of the FE.
He can be reached at email@example.com