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A litany of litigations

  • Published at 12:02 am September 12th, 2019
High Court-HC-court
File photo shows a general view of the Bangladesh Supreme Court building Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Our judiciary is in desperate need of upgrading

The judiciary is one of the most vital and fundamental organs of the modern state. In any system of governance, the judiciary plays a fundamental role in establishing rule of law, accountability, and assurance of responsibility in every nation state.

Now, Bangladesh is a growing, developing country with immense scope for prosperity. A backlog of cases in our courts is a well-known issue for us, but it is an issue that is hardly ever discussed.

Up until March 2019, the number of pending cases in the courts stands at 3,582,347. From 2008 to March 2019, the total number of cases filed is in the neighbourhood of 16 million -- nothing if not mind-boggling. The judiciary has disposed of 13,863,250 cases with poor resources, budgets, and scarcity of required privileges. 

On average, our judiciary disposes almost 1,200,000 cases on average each year. There are almost 1,700 judges working in Bangladesh, and 99 justices in the Supreme Court. It can be said that there is one judge for every 1 million of the population, which is the lowest ratio in all of South Asia.

In essence, the present number of judges in Bangladesh is rather disproportionate to such a large number of cases. 

In the last 20 years, parliament has enacted some important legislations inserting the provisions of separate courts or tribunals. But in reality, said courts or tribunals never quite materialized, except in maybe a few edge cases.

The budget allocation for the judiciary has been very nominal, even less than that of some statutory bodies. In the fiscal years of 1999-2000, 2007-08, 2015-16, 2018-19, and 2019-20, the budget for the judiciary stood at 0.37%, 0.364%, 0.511%, 0.366%, and 0.352% respectively.

In the last 20 years, the judiciary received 0.41% of the budget on average each year, despite how vital an organ it is to the state. To add insult to injury, in subordinate courts, there is a backlog of almost 3,000,000 pending cases. 

Having said that, our higher judiciary performs quite well in terms of case disposal. The rate of disposal is higher than the filing of cases, in fact.

But with the present number of justices in the Supreme Court, it is not possible to reduce the backlog overnight. It is essential that we increase the benches in the SC and enhance the facilities, resources, and other required actions.

The recently published National Justice Audit Report stated how 67% of the people expressed that they have faith in the existing judicial system. According to the audit, only 13% of the people pursued formal justice methods in the courts.

A backlog of cases is the result of sub-par judicial performance. We need innovative and positive measures rooted in practicality of development in the prevailing system of case management. In this regard, proper initiatives to reform the basic law of the procedural and substantive laws for a speedy and effective judicial system need to be adopted immediately.

The accommodation and sufficient facilities with ejlash should be implemented with the promise of serving justice. Implementation of an e-judiciary and its digitalization is the paramount action to make the judiciary effective, transparent, accountable, and speedy. No doubt, the present government should take some initiatives to reduce the existing backlog and other problems. 

Md Zakir Hossain is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service, and currently works as Senior Judicial Magistrate in Feni.

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