The above early nineteenth-century maxim has been doing the rounds ever since it was coined, supposedly by the celebrated British Prime Minister, William E. Gladstone. For all practical purposes, the axiom continues to remain an appendage to the legal system in many parts of the world. In Bangladesh, it has already left its mark on scores of legal proceedings. In recent times, there has been a huge public uproar over the time-consuming, and often watered down, legal proceedings in respect of heinous crimes like rape. Law enacted for the crime seems only to serve as an expression of good intent, in that the delay in court verdict goes to dilute the severity of the crime, and in the process, deny justice.
However, a groundbreaking court verdict few days ago awarding life imprisonment to a rapist within just a week of lodging complaint has brought to the fore the need for quick disposal of highly sensitive offences like rape. A tribunal in Bagerhat delivered the verdict setting what experts say a record for the quickest disposal of a criminal case. The tribunal took cognisance of the charges on the day the case was referred to it and framed the charges the next day. During the subsequent three days prosecution of witnesses-- a doctor, a judicial magistrate, the investigating officer and other members of the police testified in the tribunal. The accused testified the following day. The court delivered the verdict a day after completing the hearing of arguments of both sides. This, no doubt, comes as a glaring example of how fast can things move to dispose of a criminal case. There are some quarters which said that if the court took note of all relevant issues involved in the case before issuing the verdict, it is indeed exemplary and deserves high appreciation. This goes to explain the need for methodical and flawless examination of criminal cases-- that too as quickly as possible.
The incidence of rape as a dreadful social malady is high in the country for quite some time. Impunity, inordinate delay coupled with cumbersome legal procedures, and indeed the social stigma associated with rape victims often discourage them to seek legal recourse. The recent mass gatherings protesting the criminal act across the country demanded capital punishment for the offenders, which the government has acceded to by revising the anti-rape law with the provision for maximum punishment of death sentence.
While speedy completion of all kinds of criminal proceedings is a must to ensure the rule of law and social harmony, quick disposal of cases of rape is a matter that demands urgency. Currently, the rules stipulate that trial of any case filed under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act must be completed within 180 days. Although this is not adhered to, observers feel that issuance of verdict should be made strictly time-bound and the time-frame further shortened. If the Bagerhat tribunal can do the job in just seven working days, there is no plausible reason why a time-frame of, say, 60 days should not be enough for hearing a rape case and delivering verdict.