Govt should summarily reject executive magistrates’ demand
THE demand raised by the BCS Administrative Service Association for an amendment to the Mobile Court Act 2009 so that executive magistrates can take cognisance of scheduled crimes committed before them and summarily based on the statements of at least two witnesses, even when the accused do not confess to guilt, looks to be an extension of a sustained effort by the civil servants of the administrative cadre to regain the judicial authority that they lost because of the separation of the judiciary and the executive. According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, the association sent a demi-official letter to the senior secretary of the home ministry, suggesting that, in keeping with a ‘decision of the deputy commissioners’ conference in 2010’, a ‘few words’ should be included in Section 6 of the act so as to withdraw the restriction on executive magistrates to summarily try an accused that denies the charges brought against him or her.
It is worth noting that, ever since the formal separation of the judiciary from the executive in November 2007 and the subsequent formation of the Judicial Service Commission for recruitment of judicial magistrates to the subordinate courts, and especially since the assumption of the Awami League-led government in office, the district and divisional commissioners have almost religiously raised the demand for reinstatement of judicial authority for executive magistrates at their annual conference, citing one reason or the other. In fact, in their recent conference in July 23-25, considered to be the last of the AL-led government’s tenure, the divisional and district administrators demanded that their ‘summary trial power’ should be restored, which the incumbents rightly turned down. There is hardly any reason to believe that the situation has changed so dramatically in the past one month that the government needs to reconsider its decision.
The separation of the judiciary from the executive is a prerequisite for the establishment of the rule of law and came about in Bangladesh after years of dithering by successive political governments even through the Supreme Court had laid down a 12-point directive in this regard on December 2, 1999. The reason for such dithering was not difficult to understand: these governments did not want to relinquish control of the subordinate judiciary, which they had brazenly used against dissenting voices in general and political opponents in particular. Such abuse of the lower judiciary naturally led to abuse of authority by the executive authorities then presiding over the lower courts for pecuniary reasons.
In the years since the ‘separation of the judiciary from the executive’, the situation may not have been ideal for the establishment of the rule of law; however, it has created the scope for progress towards the goal. Entertainment of the BCS Administrative Service Association’s demand for an amendment to the Mobile Court Act 2009 would essentially amount to turning the clock back on the progress made thus far. As such, the government needs to stand resolute on its express position and turn down the association’s demand summarily. If any provision of the law needs amendment, it pertains to the one that empowers the mobile courts to summarily try picketers during political programmes such as hartal, which, as witnessed in recent times, has more often than not been abused to repress the opposition political parties.
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