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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 3
January 20, 2007

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Law Opinion

Politics and practice of law in Bangladesh

Mufassil M M Islam

The noble profession of law has journeyed through progression over centuries of legal history. It has re-shaped from being a King's affair to that of a charity work for many. The legal system of Bangladesh is at last seeing its light at the end of the dark tunnel as the Judiciary is being separated from the Executive. We require and ardently await the present caretaker government's Law Adviser to accelerate the complete separation of the Judiciary from the Executive.

Lawyers in our country has the enormous responsibilities to help the Judiciary remain fair and to ensure that we remain the vanguard for the Judiciary at a time when we declare our allegiance to the Bench as well. The various associations of lawyers must work together with the associations of judges to work their way forward towards having transparent and common understandings so that both sides of the coin remain transparent and remain as one unit towards meeting the goal of delivering free and fair justice to the common mass.

We would like to witness examples where the officers of the courts and the Judges have resolved their differences in a learned, honourable and dignified manner. Violence is not the way forward for any civilised society.

There are various means to influence the Judges by the ruling political parties which may be variegated in the forms of alleviation at the benches, making appointment of Judges and also through corrupt means of after retirement packages. We can hardly think of any leadership amongst lawyers in Bangladesh without political affinities at present. It has become a common practice to hear speakers on microphone calling for political motivation which tend us to think whether we lawyers are obliged to enter into politics owing to our enlightened citizenship or owing to our knowledge of law or whether we are allowing ourselves to be drawn into the vortex of power-struggle to be part of the ruling authorities.

At a time when the whole nation looks forward to the men of law for their opinion as the guardians of the Constitution, we are failing them through in-fights amongst us. Time is not far when people will become extremely frustrated with power politics and will expect us to comment and forge our power in a constructive manner so that we dare not criticise our own political connections so that people can keep confidence in us. The basic principle of a good chess player is to sacrifice pawns so that ultimately the queen can be

cornered and the board game can be won. There is no shame in accepting faults rather being hypocritical about it will eventually harm certain group.

It is a known fact that most of the political parties in our country engage themselves in power politics and do not engage themselves in constructive criticism of the other as that would require research, wisdom and time. We would like to see the political parties in the opposition not only criticising the ruling party but also pointing out the way out. In UK, there have been innumerable instances where the ruling Labour Government accepted the Conservative political party's opinion in running the country and at the same time acknowledged their failures but when the opinion of the Conservative proved to be wrong when implemented in practise, the ruling Labour party did not hesitate to snatch the option of addressing the public in convincing that how bad it would be to choose such a party whose opinion made them fail to reach the desired goal.

In the question of national interest, we would like to see all political parties standing on common grounds irrespective of their political beliefs. In UK, although the Liberal Democratic Party was vehemently against the Iraq invasion, they did pledge their support to the British soldiers once they were inside Iraq.

There are lack of nationalistic political ethos and ideologies amongst political parties. We do have our political manifestos but not many have their individualistic political approaches which were designed especially for the people of Bangladesh taking their individualistic entity as Bangladeshis. The British style democratic system may not be realistically applicable to Bangladeshi socio-economic climate where there is a lack of enlightened citizenship. The educated mass have the responsibility of making the common people aware of their constitutional rights and in being responsible citizens. Enforced general strikes may not always reflect open and uncompromised public opinions and at the same time any attempts to thwart peaceful mass gatherings to protest against the government decisions will not fail in achieving its goal in winning the public opinion if dispersed.

There is a history of enacted black laws in Bangladesh. These black laws have never been repudiated by any of the ruling political parties to ensure that they have the invisible whip to control the opposition. The lawyers of the country should engage to challenge the relevance of these black laws at present times through writs without being worried about their political bosses.

ASEAN and European Union have progressed a long way in taking the assistance from lawyers in creating unified territorial codes so that human rights of their citizens can be respected. The lawyers of South Asia can come forward through research materials so that a common South Asian Human Rights Law can be drafted and SAARC can have some serious issues to ponder over instead of ending with having lavish banquets at the

cost of poor peoples' money. I am aware of a South Asian Association of Lawyers and they are being implored herein to draft proposals for a South Asian Central Court to address human rights issues. We should stop being sceptical about our neighbours as it is the time of zonal economic growth.

Bangladesh is politically a very important country for the West as we are surrounded by neighbours not so favourable to the west. Burma, Nepal, China, West Bengal of India, and even Assam have serious political issues which are not to the liking of the Western bosses. We should reap the benefits of being a democratic country whereby our economic freedom can be achieved.

In UK, they have the House of Lords, in USA they have the Senate. We require a group of think-tanks wherefrom our media and even parliamentary bodies can seek wise opinions. The creation of a permanent national advisory body acceptable by all political parties may require time but the process should start. Lawyers can help in drafting a constitution for such a body.

To endure that lawyers are cautious about their own professionalism, they should be vigorously checked by disciplinary bodies at the Bar Council. Complaints against any lawyer (with evidence) should be seriously investigated by non-partisan members of the Bar. If there is any complaint against any lawyer, I wonder how that complaint can be addressed beyond doubt if that individual lawyer in question belongs to a certain political party and the investigating lawyer heading the investigation belongs to the other. The necessity of having Indemnity Insurance (although I am not aware of any Bangladeshi insurance company offering the service) by lawyers against malpractise and of having separate Clients Accounts and Office Accounts for their practice may help in achieving a better professional environment. Our Courts urgently require technical assistance in attaining a modern structure. A fully computerised network may help clients and lawyers cut the encumbrances of having to bribe the Peshkars and Shereshtadars for hearing dates and in promulgating judgements.

Those of us who are living abroad can only be persuasive in our views but the real responsibilities lie on those lucky ones who are living in Bangladesh in translating our dreams into reality.

Mufassil M M Islam is an advocate.


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