The Supreme Court has taken special measures for quick disposal of over one lakh cases pending with the High Court, which is now bogged down with more than three lakh cases.

Sources say Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque, since assuming the office in September last year, has taken steps to scrutinise the nature of all pending cases and find out the reasons behind the backlog with an aim to reduce it.

Following his initiative, the number of pending cases came down from 3.53 lakh to 3.13 lakh between October and December last year. Besides, a close monitoring system has been introduced to improve case management and quick disposal, the sources add.

During scrutiny, SC officials found that of the 3.1 lakh pending cases, over 1.8 lakh are criminal cases, 77,000 civil cases and over 50,000 writ and original cases.

Of the 1.8 lakh pending criminal cases, over one lakh were filed under Section-498 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for obtaining bail and the rest under 561(A) of the CrPC for quashing criminal charges and these piled up every year since 1996.

After the winter vacation when the SC resumed on January 2, the chief justice has taken some measures to dispose of the pending cases, especially the one lakh criminal cases regarding quashing and bail.

CJ Khairul has assigned two HC benches for quick disposal of the cases of 2010 for quashing the criminal charges.

Over 2,200 criminal cases of 2010, for anticipatory bail, are still pending with the HC. Similar pending criminal cases of earlier years up to 1997 will be sent to seven other HC criminal benches for quick disposal.

Similarly, a huge number of pending criminal cases for obtaining bail would be sent to eight other HC benches which have power to hear and dispose of those.

Speaking anonymously, an SC official said when they started scrutinising the pending cases, they found at least 39 cases for bail were filed in 1996 and are still pending with the HC, although those were supposed to be disposed of many years ago.

Similarly, many such cases for bail are being piled up every year since 1996.

The sources say though the litigants and their lawyers come to the HC for bail or quashing criminal charges, after getting an immediate remedy many of them take dillydallying strategy for disposing of the cases.

When the accused come to the High Court for quashing criminal charges against them, many of their lawyers seek stay on the cases and obtain it for a certain period. On completion of the period many of the lawyers again come to extend the stay, not to dispose of the case.

“This is a longstanding attitude and practice, for which many such criminal cases are piled up with the High Court year after year,” says an SC source.

Many involved in the functions of the higher judiciary believe there might be many reasons for lawyers and their clients to be reluctant to dispose of such cases.

Some of them say as the accused get relief obtaining repeated stay on the cases against them, they prefer to pass years using this strategy because the case, if disposed of, might go against them.

There is another benefit of this dillydallying. If a client passes many years obtaining repeated stay on the criminal case against him, it would be difficult to get evidence and witnesses for the complainant of the case or victim to prove the charges.

Besides, if a case continues for long, it is a good long-term source of income for the lawyer of the case. So most of the lawyers also prefer to keep the cases pending, the sources say.

The sources add there was an influx of cases for obtaining anticipatory bail in 2009. Still over 11,500 such cases are pending with the HC and none of the lawyers and their clients is interested to pursue those cases for disposal.

Those who have obtained anticipatory bails in 3,200 of the over 11,500 cases are now fugitives.

When the accused go to the HC for anticipatory bail, the court gives them a certain period and asks them to surrender before the trial court, says an SC official.

If the HC does not extend the period of bail or the accused does not surrender before the trial court, they become fugitives.

In the 3,200 cases of 2009 those who appeared first before the HC for bail did not reappear in any court after obtaining anticipatory bail.

So, the CJ has taken the initiative to quickly dispose of such cases and has taken necessary steps to dispose of the cases filed before 2009, sources say.

Besides, the CJ has also taken steps for hearing and quick deposal of those anticipatory bail cases in which the HC had issued rule and stay order but which are still pending for long.

CJ Khairul on January 3 at a full court meeting asked all HC judges to hear and dispose of the old cases on priority basis so that the litigants can get relieved of harassment of delay and the backlog of long pending cases is reduced.

The sources say after assuming office on September 30 last year the CJ found that there were 40,000 cases which were filed with the section concerned of the SC but were not heard by any bench of the HC for long.

As a result, the authorities dropped those cases from the list of pending cases in the HC in last November.

The sources say the SC is looking into many thousand other pending cases to take necessary steps for quick disposal.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Khandker Mahbub Hossain expressed his stance against such a move of the chief justice.

He argued that lawyers could earlier pray to the HC for hearing their cases, but now they cannot do that due to the chief justice’s decision.

The lawyers are now disappointed as they cannot take preparations for moving the cases fixed by the chief justice and cannot give relief to their clients, he said, adding, a damage took place in respect of trial of cases in the HC.

The SCBA president said if the chief justice does not change the decision, an untoward incident may occur in the judiciary.

“We have called a meeting of the lawyers to take decisions in this regard,” he said.

However, some other jurists including the attorney general have expressed positive views over the CJ’s moves.

Dr M Zahir told The Daily Star that the chief justice has taken the decision for disposal of cases of 2009 and 2010 on priority basis, as he considered it well.

“What is wrong with his decision?” he asked.

He however said such a decision may hamper any lawyer’s interest, but the chief justice should have discretion to take such decision.

A former chief justice told The Daily Star on Monday that the current CJ’s intention and initiatives are good both for the judiciary and the litigants.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the chief justice has taken the decision in the interest of litigants and for the welfare of the judiciary.

The chief justice has taken the steps to quickly dispose of the pending cases in a fair manner and to ensure justice for the litigants, he added.

He said a section of lawyers are intentionally opposing the measures taken by the CJ in order to make him controversial, since he has delivered some historical and epoch-making judgements to establish the spirit of the Liberation War, democracy, rule of law and justice in the country.

They are criticising the chief justice as their “professional interest” has been damaged due to his wise and timely steps, Mahbubey Alam observed.

Another legal expert Dr Shahdeen Malik said overall it is a positive step.

He however said as there are somewhat sweeping decisions, there may be instances in which a particular client may be very adversely affected.

Nevertheless if the lawyers concerned are diligent, they can ensure that their clients are not adversely affected, he said.

Shahdeen Malik said any reform measure is not welcomed by all, and the criticism is a healthy part of the reform process.

He added he is sure this criticism will lead to necessary changes in the reform process.

Source: The Daily Star – 12.01.2011