'Bribery at every step'
Many justice seekers pay between Tk 200 and Tk 10 lakh bribe to different people during legal proceedings at lower courts, a Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) study has found.
The TIB conducted the study on different lower courts, including district court, judicial magistrate's court, and metropolitan session judge's court, of 18 districts across the country between January and October.
It found poor transparency, accountability, and governance that stress people in every step of getting justice.
“Many employees of the courts do not do anything without getting bribes, the amount of which depends on the type and importance of the case, number of plaintiffs and defendants, and the justice seekers' capacity to pay,” the study said.
Some lawyers demand money for signing documents for changing lawyers, withdrawal of a case, and when receiving compensation from the accused.
A number of layers demand money from both sides, the plaintiff's and the defendant's, saying that they would make sure they win, it added.
The TIB interviewed 66 judges and 371 people related to lower courts, including lawyers, police officials, law ministry officials, and justice seekers. It also organised several discussions among them and observed activities on courts premises.
Findings of the study were revealed at a press conference at the TIB office yesterday.
The study said the Supreme Court and the law ministry control the lower courts, which deal with approximately 86 percent of the total cases filed in the country. Such double leadership, corruption, and long delays in getting justice create risk for ensuring true freedom of the judiciary, it said.
The lower courts should be solely controlled by the Supreme Court, the study recommended, adding that the government has to employ adequate manpower, build necessary infrastructure, and provide sufficient logistics and modern technological support to the courts.
The appointment of judges, lawyers and other employees of the courts should be fast, corruption-free, transparent and free of political influence. Their activities and behaviours must be monitored strictly, it recommended.
It also recommended publishing the gazette of the lower judges' disciplinary rules and code of conduct, taking immediate and strong action against corruption, making mandatory for all courts to publish annual reports, annual audit and publishing it on a website, and providing adequate financial allocation.
According to the study, the lawyers or their assistants demand more money from their clients than the fixed fees. Even after taking bribes, they do not complete the tasks timely, said the study.
Some lawyers delay legal proceedings intentionally and do not provide necessary information to their clients, it said.
“Sometimes lawyers and public prosecutors collude and not conduct the legal proceedings of cases properly,” it added.
There were accusations that court employees lobby for transfers and seekers of jobs at the courts pay Tk 3 lakh to Tk 20 lakh for their employment.
Citing shortage of 114 judges and 579 court employees at the courts under the study, the TIB said, “The number of cases is increasing gradually, but the courts do not have enough manpower … .
“As a result, the courts have to take up a heavy workload which delays finishing tasks.”
To reduce the load, many officials employ people unofficially and pay them with the money made from corrupt practices, it said.
The study also found that some of the courts have not had financial audits done in many years.
There was no effective mechanism to ensure accountability and monitor activities and behaviours of lawyers and other law officials, it said.
The TIB also mentioned poor infrastructure and shortage of adequate buildings, rooms and logistics as barriers to the courts' institutional capacity.
The study said justice seekers on many occasions get cheated by brokers and unlicensed people practicing law on court areas.
Speaking at the press conference yesterday, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the law ministry administrates the courts, so ultimately it is responsible for the issues.
TIB Chairperson Sultana Kamal and researchers of the study also spoke at the conference.