Criminal courts start in CHT in 10 days | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 25, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 25, 2008

Criminal courts start in CHT in 10 days

Move to make justice easier for hill people

In efforts to ensure access to justice for the hills people, sessions courts will start functioning in the three districts of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) within next 10 days.
To be set up as a stopgap measure, they will only deal with criminal charges while the divisional commissioner and deputy commissioners (DCs) will continue taking care of civil matters until the government introduces civil courts after amendments to the existing laws.
As part of the provisional arrangements, Chittagong district judge, metropolitan sessions judge and special division anti-corruption judge might be assigned to run sessions court in Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachhari at least once a week. It will be in addition to their regular duties.
After meeting Law Adviser AF Hassan Ariff and Supreme Court (SC) Registrar Iktedar Ahmed Wednesday, a delegation of CHT bar said the government had assured them of bringing about the necessary amendments in two months.
People in the hill tracts have little access to justice with no district or sessions judge's court instituted even after 36 years of independence.
Though judicial power of the administrative officials ended with separation of the judiciary from the executive on November 1 last year, the DCs there still retain the civil judges' posts while the divisional commissioner acts as district and sessions judge as per the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation, 1900.
An amendment to the regulation in 2003 made it mandatory for the government to establish district and sessions judge's courts in the region, but that has yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, the High Court yesterday directed the government to set up civil and criminal courts run by judicial officers in the CHT within a year to implement the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2003.
It also ordered the government to establish tribunals for preventing repression on women and children in the three hill districts within the same period.
The judgment came in response to a public interest litigation filed by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust and three lawyers.
The sessions courts, once off to a start, will spare the locals the trouble of trekking all the way to Chittagong for trial.
Currently, the Chittagong divisional commissioner discharges the judicial functions of sessions courts in CHT, home to 11 indigenous communities--Chakma, Marma, Tripura, Tonchonga, Mro, Bawm, Chak, Khumi, Pankhua, Lusai and Khiang.
Talking to The Daily Star Saturday, the SC Registrar said the divisional commissioner's serving as a judicial officer contravenes the CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure].
He added that they are planning three judges will hold sessions courts in the three districts once a week, and no amendments needed for that to happen.
“Later, judges will be appointed to run sessions courts there on a permanent basis,” he added.
Once the apex court is ready to start the CHT sessions courts, a notification will be issued to that end, the SC registrar said.
In most cases, people want to avoid hassles of travelling to Chittagong to seek justice and so many offences go unnoticed, said locals.
Around 3,500 criminal cases filed by hills people since independence till 2006 remain pending with the Chittagong courts, said sources.
In the CHT Regulation 1900, a three-tier social court headed by three hill circle chiefs (or king) and their subordinate headman and Karbari is mandated to resolve only some family conflicts in the ethnic communities.
Locals have to go to Chittagong also to appeal the DCs' judgments.
“A person from Chhoto Harina (in Borkol upazila) in Rangamati needs at least five days to return home after attending a hearing in the Divisional Commissioner's court in Chittagong,” said Pampu Protim Roy, president of Rangamati Bar Association.
The person might need to stay even longer in the port city if the court concerned for some reasons fails to sit on schedule.
People have long been calling for the governments to introduce civil and sessions courts to the region.
“Running the judiciary with executive officials goes against the spirit of the judgment in the historic judiciary separation case,” said Pampu, going on to term it contemptuous.
Mizanur Rahman, a law professor at Dhaka University, observed that the practices run counter to the 1997 CHT peace treaty as well.
At the Wednesday's meeting, Hassan Ariff told the CHT lawyers that the government would act to have necessary amendments to the law to introduce civil courts, Pampu said.
“Though the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regulation (Amendment) Act, 2003 has a provision of introducing district judge, it does not say who will be the appellate and revision authority,” he said.
The section [of the 2003 amendment] that says the government shall appoint judges too needs to be amended, he noted.
The same day the SC registrar spoke of the temporary arrangement when the delegation met him at his office.

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