In 37 years of a legal battle, the civil case travelled from the lowest tier of judiciary to the top – while the justice seekers resorted to using their valuables to feed the ongoing legal fight.
When the long-standing case over land worth Tk8,000 was finally settled last October, the buyer of the plot had crossed his 70s in the meantime.
The case over land purchase disputes was initiated with Banshkhali Chowki Adalat in January1983 and was settled six years later in 1989. Subsequently, an appeal was filed with Chattogram Additional District Judge Court challenging the ruling of the Chowki Adalat – a form of court set up in the colonial period in rural and remote areas.
The Chattogram court settled the appeal in 2003, and a revision petition was then filed with the High Court (HC) in the same year against the district court order. The HC on October 19 this year finally disposed of the case.
During the case disposal, three judges at the Chowki Adalat were transferred while four judges were transferred in the district court even as the legal battle continued. In the HC, the case moved around seven benches until the eighth one, of Justice Ataur Rahman, disposed of the lawsuit.
The HC verdict went in favor of the revision petitioner with the Supreme Court. He said the legal battle -- from Chowki Adalat to the HC – had cost him around Tk4 lakh.
In 1983, Jahirul Haque purchased 0.58 acres of land at Tk8,000 in Chattogram's Banshkhali from his cousin Mujibul Haque. But the seller Mujibul Haque's younger brother Sirajul Haque claimed that he would have priority in purchasing the land according to the preemption land law.
Sirajul filed the case under the law with the Chowki Adalat over the land sale, and the court verdict went in his favor.
Then the buyer, Jahirul Haque, moved to the Chattogram Additional District Judge Court challenging the ruling. The district court also issued an order in favor of Sirajul. Subsequently, Jahirul went to the HC to file a revision petition and the Supreme Court judged in his favor.
In the order, the HC said Jahirul's purchase is valid and there is no obstacle to his occupancy of the land. At the same time, the court ordered the authorities concerned, including Chattogram Deputy Commissioner and Banshkhali Assistant Commissioner (AC) land to take necessary measures so that Jahirul can take over and enjoy the property.
For the case, buyer Jahirul Haque and seller Mujibul Haque were the defendants in the district court while the brothers Sirajul Haque and Mujibul Haque and Chattogram's Additional District Judge Court were the defendants in the HC.
The revision petitioner Jahirul is now above 70 years in age.
His son Abul Kashem told The Business Standard that Banshkhali is a hilly area and therefore the land price was very low at the time.
He said, "The plot is almost attached to our residence. If someone else bought it, it would be a problem for us. Therefore, my father bought it from Mujibul Haque. But his younger brother Sirajul initiated the case after making fake purchase documents."
Abul Kashem said the family had to struggle to continue the legal battle. The case involved selling off the ornaments of his mother and doing away with the lion's portion of the family income.
"In the last 37 years, we moved from one court to another to get justice. Our sufferings were immense but they are now over. The HC verdict has relieved us," he added.
Abul Kashem said the current market price of the land is around Tk4 lakh.
Meantime, Sirajul's lawyer Abdus Salam told TBS that there was no scope for appeal challenging the High Court order as the court came up with it after a long hearing.
17-year of legal battle alone in HC
A HC bench issued a rule on the defendants on March 3, 2003 – a day after the revision petition was filed. Hearing on the rule began in 2012 – nine years after the petition was filed. However, the bench did not complete the hearing.
The hearing on the rule as well as the civil case roamed around seven HC benches before the eighth bench of Justice Ataur Rahman disposed of it.
Lawyer Mohammad Ibrahim, who represented Jahirul in the HC, told TBS that his client changed lawyers thrice. Although the case was repeatedly presented before the bench for hearing, it was delayed due to the retirement of three judges and change of jurisdiction of four judges.
Besides, the final hearing began in June last year in the wake of the defendants' application for time.
He said the court had fixed the date of the verdict in April after concluding the final hearing in March. However, the verdict was then delayed due to the pandemic-led court closure.
Law Commission Chairman and former Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque told TBS that most civil cases witness such lengthy trials. There is no time limit in the HC for the disposal of such cases. As a result, the justice seekers have to suffer.
The former chief justice said a monitoring committee was set up in the HC a couple of years ago to take steps to settle such old cases. But the committee is now almost inactive.
Khairul Haque urged the chief justice to detect issues which delay the disposal of such cases in district courts and the HC, and take immediate steps to resolve them.