In 2011, eleven officials of Jamalganj Upazila administration submitted a written complaint to Sunamganj deputy commissioner against the then Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO), Abul Hashem.
The complaint accused Hashem of various irregularities and of behavioral misconduct.
Seventy traders and businessmen in Jamalganj also filed a complaint to the deputy commissioner alleging that Hashem had extorted Tk2.5 lakh from them for organizing different programmes.
The then UNO allegedly also threatened a journalist called Akbar, who was covering the story for the Dainik Sylhet Bani regional newspaper. Akbar was subsequently punished by a mobile court.
Speaking to the Bangla Tribune on Tuesday, Akbar said he appealed against the mobile court verdict, after which the then UNO Hashem was declared OSD [on special duty] for six months for abuse of power.
Six years after the incident, history has repeated itself.
Last Monday, former civil surgeon Dr Salahuddin Sharif and Lakshmipur Additional Deputy Commissioner Sheikh Murshidul Islam engaged in a brawl over entry into the schoolyard of Kakoli Shishu School.
The heated argument escalated quickly into a scuffle requiring the attention of the police and a mobile court, which then sentenced Dr Salahuddin to three months in jail for mistreating the Lakshmipur ADC.
Lakshmipur’s Additional District Magistrate Mir Shawkat Ali granted bail to Dr Salahuddin on Tuesday on a Tk5,000 bond after his lawyer filed a petition with the court within 24 hours of the incident.
Also on Tuesday, the High Court summoned the Lakshmipur ADC and Sadar Executive Magistrate Nuruzzaman to appear before it to explain the case.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said: “The former civil surgeon was a high-ranking veteran government official. Those who abused power to send him to prison should face departmental action and should be put on trial.”
Barrister Barua pointed out that the tendency of the administration to delay the publication of conduct rules for lower court judges shows the administration wants to interfere with the judiciary.
“The concept of the mobile court system has been dissolved following the historic Masdar Hossain verdict,” Barua said. “This concept directly conflicts with the freedom of the judiciary.”
In a mobile court, a single person plays the role of the plaintiff, investigator and judge.
Under the existing Mobile Court Act 2009, a suspect can be punished based on confession only, but a suggested amendment would enable executive magistrates to hand down punishment based on circumstantial and other evidence.
A number of lawyers have long debated the potential for abuse of power by the mobile court system. They believe that judicial magistrates - not executive magistrates - should be in charge of mobile courts.
On May 11, 2017 the High Court ruled mobile courts conducted by executive magistrates to be illegal and contradictory to the Constitution.
The court also declared section 5 - which empowers an executive magistrate to conduct mobile court - and sections 6 (1), 6 (2), 6 (4), 7, 8 (1), 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15 of the Mobile Court Act 2009 illegal and contradictory to the Constitution, independence and supremacy of the judiciary.
The Appellate Division later stayed the High Court order that had declared running mobile courts by executive magistrates illegal.
The court passed the order in response to a writ filed by Supreme Court lawyer, Barrister Hassan MS Azim.
Speaking to the Bangla Tribune, Barrister Azim said: “The High Court already declared illegal the mobile courts run by executive magistrates. The verdict has been stayed but not scrapped, so the legality of mobile courts themselves is currently in question.”
He added that extortion is being carried out in the name of mobile courts.
“A mobile court was called following a personal scuffle. These kind of incidents show that there is scope for misusing the mobile courts,” the barrister said.
“We do not need the current mobile court system and even if we did, the courts should not be run by executive magistrates.”
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune