The Nusrat case is proof that our judiciary can be fast and efficient
Nusrat Jahan Rafi is now regarded as a symbol of justice, protest, and dignity of women.
Her case received top priority as a fast-track trial in Bangladesh. The historic trial was conducted in only 61 working days for framing charge, recording 87 witnesses out of 92 charge-sheeted witnesses, taking defense evidence and long-time argument of both parties.
The trial proceeded consecutively every day. This case is the first that was concluded and had a judgment declared in the shortest time while complying to all formalities according to Bangladeshi law.
Now, the demand for a fast-track trial in Bangladesh is the demand of our times.
In our criminal justice system, fair and speedy trial is a constitutional fundamental right which is recognized in the Article 35(3) of the Constitution of Bangladesh. We have almost 3.1 million cases in the subordinate judiciary and almost 1.8 million criminal cases out of them, with 1,600 judges and magistrates in the courts. Moreover, almost 130,000 Women and Children Repression Prevention cases and almost 1,500 Death Reference cases are pending in the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals and the High Court Division, respectively.
As such, ensuring speedy trials and punishments has become a challenge to the judicial system.
Recently, our judiciary has set some examples that show it is indeed ready to dispose of cases in the shortest possible time. The Supreme Court and Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs have taken some effective initiatives for quick trials and ensuring justice. 41 Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunals and two Anti-Terrorism Tribunals were set up in the country last year.
Additionally, the government has taken action to set up some other tribunals across the country, such as Cyber Crime Tribunals, Anti-Terrorism Tribunals, and others.
The filing of cases and ongoing crimes, and ensuring their fair and speedy trial, is a very challenging thing under the existing system, courts, laws, and facilities.
The aid of all quarters in relation with justice is a core approach for justice in a fair, speedy, and acceptable manner.
The trial is the basic part of a case to ensure justice between the victim and the accused.
Evidence is the life of any trial and the witness is the pillar of judgment of any case. In Bangladesh, there is no law for the protection of witnesses and no stringent detailed law for the management of witnesses.
In Evidence Act 1872, which is the core law for the evaluation of evidence, there is no clear provision to accept digital, audio, and visual evidence.
Our prosecution, which represents the state in the criminal cases, is not made properly accountable to the authority.
Most of those accused in murders and other heinous crimes received clemency for the defects in evidence and witnesses provided in courts. Most of the old cases are still pending due to the production of witnesses in the courts, which is the sole responsibility of the prosecution and police.
For a fair trial, a good investigation is paramount.
In the case of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, the investigating agency, PBI, and the concerned Cognizance Magistracy were very eager to ensure proper investigation and collection of evidence. Additionally, all government agencies concerned were also active and effectively participated in the trial.
Our subordinate judiciary has a few successful cases, such as the BDR mutiny case, the seven murder case, the Rajon murder case of Sylhet, and obviously the recent Nusrat Jahan Rafi case, under their belts. And through them, the judiciary has set an example that this institution can perform well and deliver speedy and fair justice when all parties concerned cooperate effectively and in accordance to the law.
To introduce speedy and fast-track trials, our government, like that of India, enacted the Speedy Trial Tribunal Act 2002 and set up certain tribunals across the country. In these tribunals, the cases are transferred through official gazettes, monitored by the ministry from time to time, and the tribunals follow the law strictly.
In certain special acts, where the law sets a time frame for trial but -- due to a huge backlog, inactive participation of the prosecution and insufficient facilities -- the courts concerned do not complete the trial within that stipulated time.
To establish rule of law and remove the prevailing culture of impunity, a fast-track trial and fair justice system are integral. For such effective action, the government should set up new courts and tribunals as per the ratio of the cases.
In addition, professional and skilled investigation agencies, accountable prosecution, witness management and protection, and monitoring of all cases are also vital for speedy trials.
Zakir Hossain is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service and currently working as Senior Judicial Magistrate in Feni.