20 days ago

Problems posed by pending cases

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Bangladesh may not be as litigious as the United States of America, thought to be the most litigious on the basis of the highest number of lawsuits, or Germany with the highest rate of litigations of 123.2 per 1,000 people, but its huge backlog of court cases continues to pile up. The Supreme Court cannot at times help ordering the trial courts to speed up disposal of cases. On Monday, the Appelate Division of the Supreme Court ordered the Speedy Trial Tribunal-2 of Dhaka to complete the proceedings within the next six months and this is the second such order for completion of the trial of a murder case filed 25 years ago. In his explanation, the trial court judge submits why he failed to complete the proceedings. It is the prosecutors' inability to present witnesses.

Clearly, two highly important issues are involved, particularly where witnesses remain absent from deposition---one is for fear of security and even life where the accused are influential or dangerous; and the other is intrigues resorted to by dishonest lawyers with the ulterior motive of dragging trial for an indefinite period. How much time the trial court should grant for presenting witnesses must have a limit. The problem of insecurity of a witness's life, however, cannot be guaranteed against the murderous elements. Civil cases may look rather innocent but those are not, particularly when the moneyed and more influential parties exert an undue influence and even threaten dire consequences for telling court the truth that goes against their interests. No, not 'all men are created equal' nor are they entitled to equal treatment and justice when society is riven with atrocious economic inequality and yawning social disparities. The rich and the privileged consider it a right to exploit the poor and the underprivileged. Lawsuits involving parties across the divide always favour the former. Where the complainant and the defendant are from comparable socio-economic background, there is a possibility of the case receiving a fair hearing.

Such complex issues apart, accumulation of cases happens on account of the inadequate number of courts and judges compared to the rising number of cases. The immediate past Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique's positive initiatives were of help in reducing the litigation backlog. But when the number of pending lawsuits stands at more than 4.0 million ---it was 4.2 million by March 31,2023, it is not easy to address the problem within months or a year. Only six judges of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court have to hear cases when the number of the piled-up lawsuits is 21,184. Similarly, 88 judges of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court are holding trial against 0.51 million pending cases. It is humanly impossible for a HC judge to oversee 5,876 cases. 

The recently retired chief justice also initiated a wonderful move to settle cases by activating the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system. This could certainly go a long way in obviating pressure on formal courts to a large extent but for the mutual mistrust and absence of people who could be taken into confidence. Once a rural society, this part of the world relied mostly on village 'panchayet' for social dispute resolution. Poisonous politics has vitiated the poise and stability of village command. A trial run of a redesigned ADR system with members of the public as well as local administration can be introduced to see how it functions. In order to reduce sufferings of litigants and huge costs, the merit of such an alternative system is beyond doubt.

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