The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown many businesses into disarray with thousands of cases under different company laws – involving a large amount of money –getting stuck in the High Court.
Legal experts have asked for expediting the hearings of these cases by increasing the number of virtual benches in the High Court.
According to Supreme Court sources, hearings in about 7,500 cases under the Companies Act, Banking Companies Act, Marine Insurance, Maritime Act, Merchant Shipping Ordinance, Price Court Matters, Admiralty Court Act and Trademark Act have been halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On July 7 last year, a fire broke out on a cargo ship named 'Marintrust-01 vessel', which operates on international routes, after it reached the Bangladesh border in the Bay of Bengal on its way from Singapore to Mongla seaport.
Most of the containers loaded with goods as well as the engine and body of the ship got damaged, and the loss was estimated to be Tk117 crore.
The vessel had a fire and risk insurance agreement with the Bangladeshi company Paramount Insurance Company Limited.
The vessel authorities sought compensation from the insurer after the incident. But the company did not pay any money to the ship's authorities on various pretexts.
The Marintrust-01 vessel authority later filed a case in the High Court in January.
Marintrust lawyer Barrister Choudhury Murshed Kamal Tipu told The Business Standard that the ship was still abandoned at sea. The High Court held a hearing on the case once in February. Although the case was supposed to be heard soon, the court could not hear it later due to the pressure of cases.
The High Court later fixed March 31 for the next hearing. But, then, the court was closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and no further hearing was held.
Barrister Tipu said such cases have been in limbo for the last three months.
In the High Court, a single bench has been fixed for hearings in these cases. As a result, the process of a disposal of the cases is quite slow.
A virtual bench has been set up in these pandemic times where only emergency cases are heard just three days a week. Even then the disposal of cases is very low. From March to June 15, only seven cases were disposed of.
Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam, an expert on company laws, told The Business Standard that these cases need to be settled quickly because a large number of businesses of many local and foreign companies are involved in these cases.
He said due to the non-disposal of cases, business or activities of many big companies will shut down. As a result, a large segment of the country's economy is confronting losses, and the institutions are facing losses as well.
A speedy hearing is possible if the Chief Justice forms three more virtual benches to hear these cases, he added.
Barrister Ajmalul Hossain QC, an internationally reputed legal expert, said, "Court systems around the world face a slowdown due to the pandemic. Even then, sitting in Bangladesh, I have virtually participated in the hearing of 35 cases in foreign courts during the last three months. Of these, 21 cases have been settled."
He said the latest case was settled on June 13 after a two-hour hearing in a company court in Sydney.
Noting that Bangladesh lags far behind in terms of technology use, the veteran lawyer said the use of technology in courts should be increased. Otherwise, thousands of organisations and individuals will be affected in cases that remain stuck due to the pandemic.
According to the Attorney General's office, around 600 cases under these laws were scheduled for hearing in March.There were about 400 cases scheduled for April, 195 for May and 86 for June.
In the last three and a half months, only 98 cases have been heard by a single virtual bench.
Barrister Alam said hearings in these cases are held for a long time. As a result, it is not possible for so many cases to be handled by a single bench.