For Keramat (not his real name), who has been working for more than four years as an office assistant at a Supreme Court lawyer’s chamber, handing out bribes on behalf of his office to several sections at the apex court is a regular part of the job.
“It is almost impossible to file any legal proceedings at the filing sections at every department without paying a bribe,” he said, adding that the same happens while obtaining the certified copy of any verdict or even bail order from the dispatch section.
Though Tk300 is the official fee to secure a certified copy, court officials working at the dispatch section charge several times the amount, he alleged.
A lawyer, his subordinates, office assistants, and even service-seekers are forced to pay large amounts of bribe to file any complaint or legal issue, which are supposed to be completely free of cost or have a nominal fixed fee, said Keramat.
Advocate JR Khan Robin, a lawyer at the apex court, had similar complaints. He alleged that in exchange for money, some bench officers move cases awaiting hearing up the cause list.
Numerous other lawyers, lawyer’s assistants, and service-seekers have come up with the same complaints.
In February, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) investigated these issues and described them in a letter that was sent to the Chief Justice, calling for action.
What the letter says
According to the inspection of a court management committee, initiated by the SCBA, evidence of bribery in numerous stay orders, appeals, cases, and writs were found during an inspection at the filing sections.
The letter said according to a lawyer’s assistant, each filing costs Tk500-1,000 in bribes, though the only cost should be a court fee and the price of a bar seal.
“The filing section officers or employees do not directly ask for any money, but keep the filing hanging for 2-3 days if not bribed,” it added.
The filing section also cares little about the serial of service-seekers, the team discovered. The letter said some bench officers take money for all work from submitting a case to putting it on a list.
Service-seekers have to pay Tk100-200 to find their files in the Miscellaneous section, the letter said.
The section chiefs pay no heed to lawyers, the letter said.
The dispatch section is in disarray and lawyer’s assistants have to pay Tk100 simply to get their orders on an entry list, the SCBA said.
’Digitalization will reduce graft’
Advocate Robin said handling a case leads to two types of complications: one during filing a case, the other after an order on it is issued.
“We want all the activities related to the trial process of any case done with transparency. We demand that the court address the irregularities soon,” he said.
SCBA President AM Aminuddin said digitalization at the all the departments at the Supreme Court will help reduce graft.
“We are to discuss the matter with Chief Justice and SC registrar general, so it is addressed properly and at the earliest,” the lawyers’ leader said.
Supreme Court Spokesperson Saifur Rahman said since the Chief Justice took charge, he has taken a strong stance against corruption at the court.
“The official activities at different sections are being monitored. Unannounced inspections are being conducted. Many officials have already been punished for irregularities, with some warned of tough action,” he said.
’Deterrent and exemplary punishment needed’
Anti-graft campaigners have demanded exemplary punishment for the people involved to root out corruption from the highest judicial body of the country.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman said allegations of corruption in the judiciary at various levels are common knowledge.
“It is frequently reported in the media, and it is also brought out from time to time through credible research by organizations like Transparency International Bangladesh,” he said.
“Now that the Supreme Court Bar Association has taken it up formally, it is only fair to expect that the Supreme Court should attach due importance to it.
“Controlling corruption does not require rocket science. Like in any other sector, those involved in corruption or any other forms of violation must be brought to justice, ensuring deterrent and exemplary punishment of perpetrators in the due process,” he said.
“Failure to do so will only make corruption a way of life, which is hopefully the last thing that anyone wants for a sacred institution like the judiciary,” Iftekharuzzaman added.
Advocate Khurshid Alam Khan, a lawyer of Anti-Corruption Commission declined to comment in details on the matter since the letter sent by SCBA is under consideration of the Chief Justice.
“But if anyone seeks to remedy with specific allegations, seeking support from the ACC, the body will consider it with due importance - if the crime is a scheduled offense under the commission's jurisdiction,” he added.