Unlike many countries in the world, public prosecutors in Bangladesh are appointed mostly based on their political affiliation. The ruling party generally appoints lawyers who are loyal to its political ideology so the government gets unfaltering support in the cases against it.
The public prosecution service is supposed to be independent. In countries that have independent public prosecution services, the lawyers applying to be public prosecutors have to go through rigorous tests to prove their eligibility.
As Bangladesh does not have an independent public prosecution service, there is no proper recruitement mechanism in place.
Taking advantage of this situation, inexperienced and inefficient lawyers secure the job using their political clout.
Using the same political backing, most of these lawyers get involved in corruption as their aim is to make quick money.
“These are lucrative posts as there are many ways to earn extra bucks. A prosecutor can change the course of a trial by not producing important witnesses and/or placing the required documents. They have no accountability for their actions,” a public prosecutor told the Dhaka Tribune, requesting to remain unnamed.
Several lawyers, some of whom are public prosecutors themselves, believe that the lack of an independent public prosecution service is severely affecting the country’s justice system.
“Some of my colleagues seem less interested in performing their official duties and more in making money,” said Md Ali Akbar, special public prosecutor at the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal 2 in Dhaka. “They extort people who go to them for justice. They [the public prosecutors] act like political goons.”
He further said a number of public prosecutors do not appear at court hearings or produce witnesses to support their cases.
In fact, in many verdicts, the courts have criticised the inefficiency and misconduct of public prosecutors.
“But no action can be taken against them because our system does not have to mechanism to hold them accountable,” Akbar said.
Because of this trend, the number of conviction in court trials is very low in Bangladesh, said the experts.
For instance, in November last year, five officials of Rid Pharmaceuticals Ltd, who had been accused of producing toxic paracetamol syrup that killed 28 children in 2009, were acquitted, and the court blamed the prosecution for failing to prove the charges.
The lack of an independent public prosecution service means the government can escape being accountable for its actions as well, especially in criminal cases for extrajudicial killings, as public prosecutors appointed politically will only work to protect the government’s reputation.
Not a permanent job
Since there is no proper system in place, the job of public prosecution is not a permanent one, which is one of the roots of the problem, said several senior lawyers.
The Ministry of Law appoints public prosecutors after a government is formed, and the set of prosecutors changes when a government changes.
Since public prosecutors do not have a permanent job, they do not get the benefits that a government job entails: a pay scale like other government employees, other financial benefits, housing, vehicles, police escorts, etc.
“Remuneration of a public prosecutor is only Tk500 per day, while an additional public prosecutor gets Tk400 and an assistant public prosecutor gets Tk200. On top of that, there is a 15% VAT on their earnings,” said Abdullah Abu, chief public prosecutor of Dhaka Metropolitan Session Judge’s Court. “You cannot expect an experienced lawyer to take up this job for this money.”
Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha, speaking at a Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee event in January, also expressed concern over the political appointments and said the system was failing to provide justice for victims.
Former law minister and senior Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Shafique Ahmed said: “Prosecutors would be held accountable if there was a permanent, structured system in place. In addition, they would be the custodian of the case files and would be able to work independently as they would not be under political pressure.”
‘There is a crisis of funds’
However, setting up such a system is not economically feasible for the country at present, Barrister Shafique Ahmed said.
“The government cannot introduce a separate public prosecutors service due to fund crisis,” he told the Dhaka Tribune. If we give them the status of public servants, we will have to provide them with all the benefits that come with the job. It is not possible to do so right now because we would have to appoint a large number of prosecutors as there are a large number of cases at courts around the country.”
The Awami League-led coalition government attempted to do it in its last term, when Shafique was the law minister, but the initiative failed, he added.
However, he said the government is well aware of the fact that due to the temporary nature of their job, public prosecutors do a lacklustre job which hampers court trials, and sometimes the courses of trials are affected when the prosecutors are replaced.
When contacted, Law and Justice Division Joint Secretary Bikash Kumar Saha said the government was still mulling over the idea of an independent prosecution service.
“It is not possible to change the whole set up and adopt a new recruitment system overnight. It will create anarchy at the political level,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
When asked, noted human rights lawyer Shahdeen Malik refuted the claim that fund crisis was an issue.
“The construction cost of one kilometre of a four-lane road is over Tk100 crore. Can we not sacrifice the five kilometres of a four-lane road to initiate the system for the sake of justice?” he asked.
He said the government could start with recruiting just five experienced lawyers as public prosecutors at each divisional headquarters as a pilot initiative. “In 10 years, it can be established in the whole country,” he added.