Rasheda Begum was raped and murdered in 1997 in Gaibandha. After investigation of the case, police in 1998 submitted a charge sheet to the court accusing two individuals, and in 2000, the court framed charges against the duo.
But the accused moved to the High Court (HC) and appealed against the legal action of the lower court. Responding to a revision case (of the accused), the Supreme Court put a stay on the trial, pending settlement of the appeal.
Even though 20 years have passed since then, the appeal is yet to be settled to pave the way for the beginning of the trial.
According to the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, trials of such repression cases must be completed within 180 days. The HC separately issued the same instructions to the subordinate courts.
However, the trials of at least 1,500 repression cases have been stalled for years on stay orders of the HC. Judicial proceedings in those cases also remain suspended due to non-disposal of the HC rules on whether the lawsuits will continue or be dismissed.
Allah will judge: Rasheda's brother
Shariful Islam, the plaintiff of Rasheda Begum murder case and also the brother of the victim, told The Business Standard that after turning up at the local court on the day set for announcement of the trial date, they were informed that the HC had already stayed the case.
"After that, I went to the Gaibandha district court where the lawyers told me the same thing they've been saying for the past three years -- the trial will not begin until the appeal is disposed of in the High Court. Finally, I gave up."
Shariful said, "I am just a day labourer and am not in a position to go to local court again and again, let alone the high court. I have given up hope of justice for my sister. Allah will judge."
Saiful Islam, the erstwhile Assistant Attorney General of the concerned bench of the HC, told TBS that he had resigned after the HC put a stay on the trial. He said that he was not aware of recent developments.
AG's office can "resolve" it
If the High Court issues a rule in a case, the onus is on the Attorney General's (AG) Office to take the initiative for the hearing. Since this is not done, trials of many cases have been pending for years.
Legal experts say the HC can put a stay on a case on specific grounds. But first and foremost, the case must be disposed of by settling the rule with regards to the stay order, as trial delays could disrupt the course of justice.
Former Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed told TBS that there was no time limit for disposal of appeals at the HC. There is also no set ceiling on the number of dates that may be sought for the rule hearing.
This sometimes leads to years of wait for seekers of justice and could be mitigated if the Attorney General's Office had effective measures in place to dispose of the appeals or rules.
Plaintiff "should be" notified prior to rule
Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua told TBS that the plaintiff should have the opportunity to appoint a lawyer before the HC rule is issued to stay a case trial.
He said the HC should inform the plaintiff as soon as the accused moves the Supreme Court for a stay order.
Though the lawyer advocated the plaintiff to appoint a lawyer at the HC, many justice seekers like Rasheda's family cannot afford to retain one.
For instance, Rabeya Islam of Dhaka's Khilgaon area filed a case against her husband and two others on 29 March, 2012 over torture. In March 2013, the court stayed the case and issued a rule when the accused applied to the High Court.
That rule has not been settled in seven years.
Rabeya said, "I went to the Attorney General's Office several times to conclude the hearing of the rule, but to no avail. I cannot afford to hire a separate lawyer for the HC."
Apart from this, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said plaintiffs often come to know about the stay long after the issuance of the rule. In some cases, the accused have been known to cause the HC notice to "disappear" before it reaches the plaintiffs.
He urged the state counsel to be enterprising and sincere in resolving these longstanding issues.
When contacted, though Attorney General AM Amin Uddin acknowledged the delay in the hearing and settlement of such rules, he claimed that these issues arose only infrequently.
He told TBS that there are often no further investigations in such cases after the issuance of the rules. In fact, those rules do not even appear on the hearing list.
"We have taken measures to dispose of the pending cases. Once we hear about such cases, we will apply to the relevant bench for hearing," he concluded.