Compensation won’t bring back the victims, but can provide some solace
Bangladesh has some of the highest casualties in road accidents in the world.
The country has lost many of her brightest sons in accidents, while lives of common people are lost every day, and every year countless families lose their sole earner.
Sadly enough, victims being deprived of compensation and the perpetrators escaping punishment has become an imaginable picture of our legal system.
Tareque Masud, a luminary of the film industry, died in a road accident as well. However, after five years of legal battle, his family has been awarded Tk4.62 crore as compensation, which is apparently unprecedented.
The judgment on December 3 not only was an acknowledgment to the loss of his probable future contributions, but also opened a gateway to seeking compensation for all road accident victims.
The problem of compensation
The compensation case was filed in 2012. But trial began on March 13, 2016 and it took almost a year and a half more for the court to order a relief.
This long duration unfortunately represents the lengthy and ugly process of seeking relief in Bangladesh. Almost every case is further appealed and thus, it takes years for the procedure to finally end in the Appellate Division.
Another problem with compensation cases in general is the authorisation of the payment. Appeals put a halt on everything, and more often than not the amount of pecuniary compensation is reduced — if not completely revoked — in the Appellate Division.
The jurisprudence being totally discretionary, an inconsistency between judgments of the two divisions of court is caused due to the lack of guidelines in affixing the compensation, and absence of existing criteria to scrutinise sufferings.
The backlog of cases is hindering judges from dealing with urgent issues
The judiciary has always been evasive in the judgments to show any methods of determining the compensation amount. Money granted by the court in this case is no doubt one of the highest ever.
The basis of measurement presented in the full judgment is something to delve into if any explanation at all is given by the court. Compensation was sought for the loss of care, protection, nursing, and affection of Tareque Masud and his family members, loss of dependency suffered by the family members, losses of income, future advancement, medical expenses of claimant, funeral expenses, and damage of property.
The court is assumed to have taken everything into account since the compensation granted is a huge figure.
How much is a life worth?
Whether the life of a common person will amount to similar compensation, has been called into question.
The HC observed that the incomes of road accident victims may be different, but their affection and love are equal, and so the compensation should be the same for all victims.
This view of the court purports to treating everyone equally and vanquishes the doubt on what the scenario had been in case of an infamous general person.
Enabling victims to lodge a compensation seeking case at just Tk20 can prove to be claimant friendly, but only if made time-efficient as well.
The main setback for our justice system is its apparently time-consuming mechanism.
Alarmingly, allowing compensation cases widely can pressure the already over-burdened courts.
The backlog of cases is hindering judges from dealing with urgent issues. Restorative means can be attempted here to make the drivers understand their guilt instead of focusing solely on punishment.
Punishment and fines should be ordered reasonably by the court. Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983 regulates the punishment and penalties for offenses related to driving a vehicle. But the amount of fine prescribed in the less-known law seems to be miserly, and not enough to be a deterrent.
Then again, if the amount fined is beyond the capacity of the party, certainly there remains scope for reconsideration of the method of measuring compensation. Failing to compensate makes one unsuccessful in following the order of the court, which is inherently disrespectful towards the judiciary brought unto itself by passing orders, which are not feasible.
Bangladesh is developing new legal notions — mandatory for modernising the legal system. Judicial activism has prevailed, and the judges are liberal in approving the concept of public law compensation.
This monetary form of relief cannot undo the loss suffered, but is a solace to aggrieved persons, especially to the poor section of people. Compensation for road accident victims is a positive inclusion, but the court should not overstep in support of any particular party.
Ultimately, a step forward means more responsibility on the judges to act wisely, and an assurance of justice for everyone.
Raihan Rahman Rafid is a legal activist.