The Financial Express

The constitutional status of village courts

| Updated: October 19, 2017 14:48:03

The constitutional status of village courts
In Bangladesh, the court system is mostly urban-centric. To address the serious need of protecting the majority of rural population through law, a separate court system was introduced in 2006. The legislation introducing such a unique system was titled the Village Court Act, 2006. It established courts for rural areas, sitting in the local government institutions named 'unions', working independently from both the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs and the national judiciary.
The judge panel of a village court consists of the Union Parishad Chairman as the head and four other members, of whom two must be Union Parishad Members. Hence it is safe to deduce that village court carries out duties related to the executive of Bangladesh being regulated through a specific local government body. Main functions of village courts of Bangladesh include: filing of a case, summoning, witness examining, oath-taking under Oaths Act, 1873, giving written judgment and imposing fine up to 75 thousand taka as penalty. 
As Unions are the functioning core of these village courts, changes in structure of this local government body are bound to bring changes in affairs of village courts. Such an instance has been brought forward through a groundbreaking amendment in the legislation regulating the 'unions', namely the Local Government (Union Parishad) Act, 2009. Under Section 19A of this Act, a provision newly added in 2015, to become a UP Chairman, candidates now have to be nominated by political parties or have to compete as independent candidates. So, as a direct result of this amendment, after the upcoming Union Parishad Election in March, all panels of judges in every village court shall be headed by a Chairman who can be elected as representative of a political party. But can such change be desired for establishing rule of law in our society?
When we picture a judge sitting in his court, we cannot but consider such a person to be dedicated toward ensuring true justice. Because the post of a judge is the most impartial position ever created. Can an executive office-holder with a political agenda ever be a suitable option for carrying out tasks of a judge? The answer would obviously be in the negative.
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh clearly provides that every accused person shall have the right to a speedy and public trial by an independent and impartial Court (Article 35). Moreover, the judiciary must be separate from the executive organs of the State in order to ensure such independence and impartiality (Article 22). Present laws relating to village courts are apparently in conflict with these constitutional provisions. 
Article 7 of our Constitution provides that, any law inconsistent with the Constitution shall be void to the extent of such inconsistency. The apparent repugnancy of the composition of village court panel with the Articles 16, 22 and 35 of the Constitution should be addressed by proper authorities.  
Preeti Sikder, LLB, LLM (DU) is a Legal Research Officer at the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). [email protected]

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