Our skewed legal system

Visual: Star

This is an issue that has consumed my mind and compels me to pen my views on it every now and then. While I offer no apology for delving once again into a heavily flogged subject – I believe one cannot write enough on the matter – I nonetheless offer my apology in advance for repetitions of specific examples that might have occurred in my previous articles regarding our legal system and, linked to it, the rule of law.

A well-known legal mind is said to have remarked that "the worst part of a judicial system is, instead of fighting against injustice, people are fighting for justice." PS Jagadish Kumar's inimitable words are fairly representative of the situation in most of the South Asian countries – certainly of ours, where justice remains a chimera for people without means. Means include political clout, power, money, and even close and remote proximity to power. Matters can be hastened or delayed depending on who the victim is and who the accused is. Every passing day, my view that the law is being applied selectively grows stronger. Forgive me if I appear to be speaking out of turn, but let me back up my claim with a few glaring examples.

It has been 10 years since the journalist couple Sagar and Runi was murdered in the most gruesome manner. It remains the most sensational and longest unsolved murder. More than 80 dates have been fixed for hearing of the case, but the ruling issued by the court in February 2012, answerable within two weeks, has not been answered in 10 years. All that the agencies have been able to find out after the DNA testing is that the murder might have been carried out by two men. Did it require all these years to reveal the sex of the killers?

One may ask why the police, after it had announced on February 26, 2012 that they were "almost certain" about the motive of the killing, later retracted when the case was reassigned by the High Court to the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), saying that they were not able to pinpoint the motive despite their best efforts. The comment of the High Court is extremely relevant and hits at the malaise of the legal system. The High Court made no secret of its disappointment when it observed, "If any police is killed, you get the clue. Then why you don't get it when a journalist or a lawyer is killed?" Are we to believe that the police had discovered something which would not only embarrass but also implicate powerful people in high places? Did the two, known for their talent for investigative journalism, come by incriminating information so damaging that they had to be silenced for good, because they could not be bought?

Take another example where equality before the law has been trampled and the adage that some are more equal than others has triumphed. The Sitakunda container depot fire exposed everything wrong with the system. It was a glaring example of violations of rules, regulations and procedures. It was a disaster waiting to happen since the depot started operating, flouting local and international guidelines, and now the related agencies are pointing fingers at one another for its non-compliance. While this is one aspect of the case, the other aspect is that the owner of the depot has not been indicted in the case while eight of his staff members have been. Compare this with, for example, the fire at the FR Tower in Banani in March 2019 which killed 26 people. The police were quick to arrest, and rightly so, two owners for negligence and violations of the national building code that resulted in casualties, and the two could end up facing charges of culpable homicide. This begs the question: Why has the owner of the container terminal been given a different dispensation than the owner of the FR Tower? Is it because he happens to be somebody from the ruling party?

The Taqi murder case is another blot in our justice system. Would one be remiss in asking why, after Rab claimed eight years ago to have cracked the case and assured that, "the chargesheet would be given any time," no charge sheet has been given yet? Needless to say, here again is involved, as revealed in the media, a scion of a political family linked to power.

The unfortunate relatives and the little boy Sagar and Runi left behind, who is a young man now, are not only asking for answers, but seeking justice too, and so are the parents of Taqi. It seems that William Gaddis had a country like ours in mind when he uttered, "Justice? You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law." One hopes that these people would not have to wait for the next world to get justice. There should be no doubt that any attempt deliberately engineered to see the cases fall through – and I am not for a moment suggesting that this is being done – will make those involved in doing so complicit in the crime.

I am tempted to reproduce what I wrote in conclusion of a piece on the same subject four years ago to the month. It goes as follows, "This is a phenomenon that is not regime-specific, but one that has vandalised morality and made the system of justice a farce. And unless there is a collective expression of indignation we will quickly approach, as described by Aristotle, to the level that human beings can degenerate to. He says, 'At best, man is the noblest of animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.'" It is a thoroughly reprehensible prospect.


Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (retd) is a former associate editor of The Daily Star.


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