It took over 22 years for the first trial in the drug adulteration cases to be completed mainly because of the manipulation of the legal process and the drug regulatory body's sheer indifference.
The revelation by the Bangladesh Law Commission is a wakeup call for policymakers in a judiciary already weighed down by the huge piles of cases pending at different courts and levels for decades.
As many as 18 years and three months were spent in getting an owner and two staff members of Adflame Pharmaceuticals punished for producing tainted paracetamol syrup that caused the deaths of many children between the late 1980s and early 1990s, the commission said in a report.
The report came following the country's first-ever verdict against the Adflame drug adulterators last month.
On July 22, a Dhaka court sentenced the company's director Helena Pasha, manager Mizanur Rahman and production officer Nigendra Nath Bala to 10 years in jail for manufacturing adulterated drugs that killed 76 children in the 1990s.
The report, submitted to the law ministry on Monday, said only 10 percent of the time (about 11 months) was wasted in the trial because of legal wrangling by the defence.
“It is the call of the time to improve this intolerable legal crisis,” reads a line in the report before offering recommendations for a judicial reform.
“Although this kind of reform cannot be made straightaway, it must be ensured that it is initiated right at this moment.”
Punishment for witnesses defying summons from court, improvement in police performance in producing witnesses, witness protection and facilitating their travel to court, prioritising deposition of witnesses, and modernising the court in terms of providing alternatives to the existing practice of the judge himself writing testimonies from witnesses are some of the proposals for the reform.
Getting rid of the practice of imposing stay on case hearings unless there is really any crisis and stipulating the effectiveness of High Court stay orders by a deadline of six months are two other recommendations.
“It is necessary to maintain adequate cautionary measures in cases of a rule and a stay order coming from the High Court division,” said the report, stressing the role of the chief justice in discouraging “unreasonable” rulings.
The report said the Adflame trial was a "classic example" of procrastination in case disposal.
“It is uncertain how long it may take in disposing of the trial [against Adflame] finally [through the higher court division and the appellate division]," it said.
The report said the Adflame trial should have been completed in two years after the filing of the case in 1993.
It added the HC "terribly failed" in managing cases, resulting in the long delay.
Proceedings of two other pending drug cases involving adulteration had been stayed for 18 years, following an HC stay order in 1994.
Still, it took one year for the HC order vacating the stay to reach the trial court, situated no more than a kilometre from the HC. This means 19 years were wasted in the "legal process", and it took another two years for the trial to begin.
It took 13 months for the drug court to see the Adflame case argument completed, said the report.
Citing the HC order that ended the 14-year-stay on the proceedings of the case in 2007, the report said the order bore testimony to the "utmost irresponsibility of people concerned with our judiciary".