The use of Bangla language in all spheres of life is yet to be ensured 66 years after people of the country shed blood for establishing Bangla as a state language.
Though there is a legal injunction for the use of Bangla, it is still largely ignored at government and non-government offices. And the country’s higher court is no exception.
The Supreme Court was formed based on the country's constitution that categorically states that the state language of the Republic shall be Bangla.
Also, the then Ershad regime passed a law, the Bengali Language Implementation Act 1987, to ensure the use of Bangla in all state offices.
In 2011, the Law Commission, too, put forward a set of recommendations on implementing the act, but no government initiative to enforce it is in sight.
In 2014, the High Court Division issued a ruling asking the government to take measures for implementing and ensuring the use of Bangla everywhere, including signboards, banners, electronic media advertisements, nameplates, and vehicle number plates.
Despite the ruling by the higher court itself, there are hardly any instances in which it used Bangla while passing orders or delivering verdicts.
Experts and the people concerned said there are many reasons behind this, including the absence of extensive legal terminology in Bangla and lawyers' reluctance to use Bangla in court proceedings.
Most laws are written in English, and references of other courts across the country and the world are also in English. As a result, translating these legal materials into Bangla is a very cumbersome task, they reasoned.
However, sections of retired judges, ministers, lawyers feel that even though there are some barriers, Bangla should be used in all legal proceedings, orders, and verdicts.
Whether a judge will use Bangla in his or her orders depends on their good will, they added.
Use of Bangla in the High Court
Only two judges of the High Court, Justice Sheikh Md Zakir Hossain, and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal, now write their orders and verdicts in Bangla, setting a trailblazing example and inspiring their colleagues.
Justice Zakir has used Bangla in court affairs for the last eight years, and Justice Ashraful Kamal since August 2017.
Talking about problems with verdicts written in English, experts said justice seekers often get into trouble and find it difficult to understand such verdicts. As a result, they have to ask for assistance from lawyers or translators.
In an exemplary move in 1999, several judges of the High Court decided to write verdicts in Bangla, but their move did not make visible progress, and in the subsequent seven years, not a single order or verdict was passed in Bangla.
Former chief justice ABM Khairul Haque wrote and delivered a good number of verdicts in the state language.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Khairul, now chairman of the Law Commission, stressed the need for using Bangla in all court affairs.
Though there are some barriers, judges should use the mother tongue while passing their orders, he said.
“Journalists working with Bengali dailies may face similar problems. But, do they ever quit their jobs just because of linguistic barriers?,” he asked the question.
“A judge has to have good will and desire to deliver judgments in the state language.”
The former chief justice suggested taking assistance from linguists who can help write judgments in Bangla.
Khairul said his commission has been preparing a Bangla lexicon for legal purposes.
“We already have a workbook. Now, we are working to expand its scope and prepare two volumes involving more legal terminologies. I think the volumes will greatly help judges pass verdicts and orders in the vernacular.”
Former law minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed said Bangla was not spoken in courtrooms in the past, but nowadays many lawyers hold hearings in Bangla and the judges speak Bangla as well.
Lawyers said the major challenge behind using Bangla is that the majority of landmark verdicts cited as references around the world were written in English. Also, there are some legal terms that apparently cannot be translated into Bangla.
The government would therefore need to take steps to decode terms that have been in use since the colonial period.
However, lower courts in the country have been using Bangla for quite a long time.
ZI Khan Panna, a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court, said things have been changed. Most lawyers now use Bangla in their professional work, even in the Appellate Division.
He added: “Some lawyers use Bangla in petitions and prayers they file with the court. This is certainly a positive trend, as their clients can easily understand what their counsel is submitting on behalf of them.
“ The Court has no objection to accepting petitions written in Bangla, even though many of us feel comfortable with using English in courtrooms.”