The disposals of many appeals in cases for default loans are pending with the Supreme Court's Appellate Division and High Court Division amid the ongoing closure stemmed out of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last three months (March to May), despite being in the daily work schedules of both the divisions, around 3,000 cases could not be heard or disposed of. Most of the cases were awaiting final verdicts, according to relevant sources.
Thus, around Tk14,000 crore of different banks has got stuck in those appeals.
Legal experts suggest that the chief justice take steps to settle the cases which are at the final stage of hearing through virtual functions.
For instance, Tabibor Rahman, owner of Bengal Auto Rice Mill in Naogaon, took a loan of Tk61 crore from Rajshahi Krishi Unnayan Bank in 2000.
As the borrower did not pay back, the amount rose to Tk100 crore with interest in 2009.
Later, the bank filed a case with Noagaon Artha Rin Adalat (money loan court) against the rice mill owner to recover the loan. In 2013, the court gave a verdict in the lender's favour.
In the same year, Tabibor filed an appeal with the High Court, challenging the verdict, and the HC subsequently upheld the lower court judgement in 2017. Then, the businessman resorted to the Appellate Division that began hearing on his appeal in 2018.
At the beginning of last year, the Appellate Division, in an interim order, directed the rice trader to pay back Tk20 crore to the bank within a month.
In April that year, the appeal hearing resumed and finally ended in November in a full bench of the Appellate Division led by Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain. Later in February this year, the Appellate Division set March 31 for its verdict.
But the case verdict got stuck when the court was closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"The verdict is being delayed as the court remains closed owing to the Covid-19 outbreak. Its announcement will not be possible before the court's regular proceedings begin," Abdul Baset Majumder, lawyer of Tabibor, told The Business Standard.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said trials of around 200 cases related to default loans are at the final stage in the Appellate Division. It was possible to announce verdicts on those cases. But the Covid-19 played spoilsport.
Similarly, proceedings of several thousand such cases with the High Court Division remain stuck due to the pandemic.
All courts in the country have remained closed since March 24 after the coronavirus made inroads in the country.
According to the attorney general's office, the recovery of around Tk4,000 crore in bank loans hang on 344 appeals included in the Appellate Division's daily work schedules for the last three months either for hearings or disposals.
There are three benches in the High Court Division to deal with appeals in default cases. In the last three months, the appeal hearing of around 2,500 bank loan cases were supposed to take place in those benches. Recovery of around Tk10,000 crore of different banks has been caught in those unresolved cases.
There are many cases involving big amounts of default loans among those appeals with the High Court, which could be resolved during the time, Mahbubey Alam said.
According to the latest data of the Supreme Court, 3,300 review petitions and appeals lodged with the Appellate Division, and around 15,000 with the High Court Division are awaiting disposals.
Ajmalul Hossain QC told The Business Standard that banks are being affected as court proceedings came to a halt because of Covid-19. There will more delay in recovering their loans.
Therefore, he urged to take initiatives to settle these cases expeditiously.
Significant amounts of money have got stuck in the cases. If a bank recovers its money through a court order, it can invest that money in businesses. Thus, businesspeople will get supports and the country's economy will get some momentum, he said.
Such cases can be settled in virtual courts, he added.
Former Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque, chairman of the Law Commission, said now it is the need of the hour to implement the ordinance issued by the president on allowing virtual court functions. Not for bails only, trials of cases involving large amounts of default loans and loan scams also need to be completed in this way.
If adequate measures are not taken now, trails of all the cases and those for default loans will be delayed further, he added.
Law Minister Anisul Haq told The Business Standard that they are gradually increasing the number of virtual benches in the Supreme Court. If the coronavirus outbreak continues this way, more such benches will be formed.
They have plans to form a special bench to deal with appeals in the cases for default loans if virtual benches are increased.