Corrupt bench officers must be called to account
THE failure of the office of the registrar of the Supreme Court to act upon notices served by the Anti-Corruption Commission that summoned certain bench officers in the High Court to appear in person and explain the allegations of corruption levelled against them is disappointing and dangerous too. According to a report published in New Age on Sunday, the commission issued the notices in view of the allegations that these bench officers had accumulated wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. The commission also sought the assistance of the Supreme Court registrar to ensure that the bench officers appeared before it on the designated dates. However, none of the bench officers has complied with the notices till date. The registrar has claimed that the notices have not reached him perhaps because of the workings of a ‘nexus between a section of officials and bench officers’ who, it is pertinent to add, work under him.
While the judges of the High Court and Appellate Division have generally commanded people’s respect and trust, there have always been questions and controversies surrounding the courtroom staff, especially the bench officers. Allegations have it that a section of the bench officers, who prepare the cause list for hearing by the bench, often pushes cases up the list in exchange for bribe. As such, there have been instances where a petitioner had to wait up to 15 days before his or her petition was heard by the judges, as the corrupt section of bench officers had fast-tracked cases way down the line. There have also been cases where a petitioner had to wait even for months for his or her petition to be included in the cause list because s/he had refused to bribe the bench officer/s concerned.
It is worth noting that, taking such unethical and illegal practices by a section of the courtroom staff, the Bangladesh chapter of the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in 2010 listed the High Court as an institution blighted by corruption. Suffice to say, the revelation triggered widespread criticism and also call for effective steps to purge the court of corrupt bench officers. The attorney general, since his assumption of office, has also been vocal about allegations of corruption against bench officers. In such circumstances, the notices served by the Anti-Corruption Commission have been generally viewed as a step in the right direction. Regrettably, the initiative seems to have run into stiff resistance by the same people that have tarnished the image of the highest judiciary in the first place.
Now that the registrar has been made aware of the ACC notices, he needs to first find out the members of his staff that sought to keep them beyond his knowledge and take disciplinary action against them. At the same time, he needs to make sure that the summoned bench officers to appear before the Anti-Corruption Commission in person and explain how they have come to be in possession of wealth disproportionate to their known source of income. Simply put, he has to cooperate with the commission every step of the way in the bid to rid the court of corrupt practices.
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