Courts hamstrung by judge shortage
With backlogs of pending cases piling up due to crisis of judges, the government does not seem to have any specific plan to appoint new judges to the Appellate and High Court divisions of the Supreme Court any time soon to increase the rate of case disposal.
Asked, Law Minister Anisul Huq told The Daily Star recently, "Of course, judges will be appointed to the Appellate and High Court divisions. It's a continuous process. When the posts of judges fall vacant, new judges are appointed."
He, however, did not say when and how many judges will be appointed.
Crisis of judges increased the case backlogs at the courts of the country in the last few years and Covid-19 pandemic restrictions turned the situation graver, causing immense sufferings to the justice seekers.
As of July 30, there are five judges including the chief justice in the Appellate Division (AD) and 91 in the High Court Division.
The chief justice will retire on December 31 this year.
But the number of cases pending with the AD is 15,225 while it was 4,52,963 with the HC till December 31 last year, according to a study report of Law Lab, a law-chamber that conducts research on legal and constitutional issues.
In 1974, the AD had five judges and the number of the HC judges was 12. The pending cases in the AD and HC at that time were 4,094 and 28,186 respectively.
The Law Lab collected the data from the reports published by the SC and from the parliamentary proceedings.
Across the country, the number of pending cases at different courts till December 31 last year was abysmally high -- 39,33,186.
In one year from January 1 till December 31 that year, 7,39,563 cases were resolved in these courts, said the report.
The SC administration does not have statistics on the numbers of cases filed and disposed of last year and this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said SC spokesperson Mohammad Saifur Rahman.
Advocate Mohammad Shishir Manir, who leads the Law Lab, said if the case backlog continues to go up, the fundamental rights of the citizens to have speedy trial under article 35(5) of the constitution will be nugatory.
"It is high time to take immediate steps to ensure best use of the existing resources, increase their efficiency and remove procedural complexities to get rid of the pending cases," he said.
He stressed on digitalisation of the case management system for faster case disposal.
According to the Law Lab report, each judge of the AD is burdened with more than 3,045 cases on an average as the number of its judges came down to five from 11 in 2009 after appointments and retirements of some judges.
The situation is worse in the HC as each of its 91 judges is burdened with 4,923.51 cases on an average. Three of the HC judges are not being allowed to conduct bench as an inquiry is going on about them since August 22, 2019.
Besides, three HC judges are conducting the International Crimes Tribunal-1 for disposing of the 1971 war crimes related cases, SC sources said.
The judges at the lower courts are also burdened with a huge backlog of cases as there are only 1,700 judges to deal with 34.65 lakh cases filed in courts across the country.
This means each of the judges will have to dispose of 2,038 cases on an average, the report said.
In 2014, Bangladesh Law Commission recommended the government recruit 3,000 judges at lower courts for quick disposal of pending cases and reducing sufferings of justice seekers.
Contacted, Muhammad Yusuf Hossain Humayun, vice chairman of Bangladesh Bar Council, said there is an urgent need for appointing some judges at the AD as it is facing a severe shortage of judges.