The government placed Sunday the much-awaited bill in the national parliament that aims at separating the judiciary from the executive. Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed tabled the bill, titled, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill 2006, describing the move a historic one. He said that the bill that was placed in the House was in line with Supreme Court directive to separate the judiciary from the executive. The law minister, however, for obvious reasons, did not mention in the House how the highest court of the country forced the government to undertake this important constitutional task when it (government) had failed time and again to meet the deadlines.
The bill placed in parliament seeks to create two types of magistracy--- judicial and executive. The judicial magistrates, according to the provisions of the bill, who will be under the authority of the Supreme Court, will have no administrative functions. The district magistrates, additional district magistrates, upazila nirbahi officers and assistant commissioners will be entrusted with the responsibility of executive magistracy. In parallel, a number of judicial magistrates will be posted in each of the districts under a chief judicial magistrate. In the metropolitan areas there would be judicial magistrates under chief judicial metropolitan magistrates. The bill was referred by the House to the standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs and the committee was asked to report back to it within two months. Considering the deliberate delays made by successive governments in separating the judiciary from the executive, one cannot be blamed for remaining sceptical over the passage of the bill during the tenure of the present government, which may try to pass the buck onto the next government.
The Supreme Court in a landmark verdict on December 02, 1999 asked the government to implement a 12-step directive for the separation of the judiciary from the executive wing of the state. Three governments, including the last caretaker government that oversaw the 2001 October elections, had sought time-extensions on 22 occasions to comply with the SC directives. Recently, when the government had again sought another time extension, the SC not only turned down the prayer but also expressed its deep annoyance over the government's footdragging on the issue. The reason behind the government's deliberate delay was that it was unwilling to give up its control over the magistrates who until now have been performing dual jobs -- administrative and judicial. Magistrates being under the direct control of the government have been very often been subject to interferences from the powerful quarters in the exercise of their judicial powers. The creation of a separate judicial magistracy, hopefully, will bring an end to such undue interferences.
But one particular issue, perhaps, will remain unresolved here. Will the judicial magistrates be corruption-free? Corruption is very much prevalent in the country's magistracy and lower courts. Will the Supreme Court be able to remove corruption from all tiers of the judiciary and help the litigant people get fair deal? The separation of judiciary from the executive would no doubt raise the expectation of the people from the judicial officers of the country. One can expect only that the judicial officers would live up to the expectation of the people. In Bangladesh, all major institutions are weak and are not functioning properly. The people, however, do still have some confidence in higher courts. If the performance of the magistracy and lower courts could be improved, it would contribute a lot to the image-building of the judiciary.