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Bangla in all court proceedings

Many laws, little avail

Shafiqur Rahman | February 21, 2022 00:00:00

Students carrying placards demanding language rights. Photo Source: Ekush: Bhasa Andoloner Shachitra Itihas 1947-56 by CM Tarek Reza

On another return of the historic occasion of commemorating the sublime sacrifice for mother tongue, it's worthwhile to inretrospect on how far a mandate for making Bengali into court parlance of Bangladesh stands. The third article of the Constitution of Bangladesh states that 'The state language of the Republic is Bangla'. It means, Bangla is the sole official language of the country. But little progress was in sight in compliance with the constitutional obligation.

The Bengali Language Implementation Act was enacted on March 08, 1987 since this article was still not implemented to full extent. As per section 3(1) of the Bengali Implementation Act all official proceedings of the government, semi-governments, courts, examination and cross- examination of the witnesses in the courts ought to be conducted in the Bangla language, except for communications to foreign nationals.

Furthermore, it is stated under the section 3(1) of the aforesaid Act that if any application or appeal is made in any language other than Bangla, it will be considered invalid. But the High Court and Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court are still providing judgments in foreign language, in English to be precise, rather than Bengali by virtue of CRPC and CPC. This is worth mentioning that the court means all the courts existing in this country, including the High Court and Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court.

Rule 01 of Chapter 4 of the High Court Manual enunciates that any application submitted to the High Court will be in English while rule 69 of chapter 5 of the High Court Manual provides that any order and decree provided by the High Court shall be in the language of the court.

This is where the thing became obscured which is not clear to the ordinary people. It seems from the facts of the matter that the courts assume that State means executive, legislative and subordinate courts only. This implies that proceedings of government offices will be conducted in Bengali language and the proceedings of the courts will be conducted in the language of the courts. Example of using two separate languages in a country for judicial and executive functions is rare in this world.

Section 137(3) of CPC states that "Where this Code requires or allows anything other than the recording of evidence to be done in writing in any such court, such writing may be in English; but if any party or his pleader is unacquainted with English, a translation into the language of the court shall, at his request, be supplied to him; and the court shall make such order as it thinks fit in respect of the payment of the costs of such translation". Similarly, as per section 138(1) of CPC, the High Court Division may, by notification in the official Gazette, direct with respect to any judge specified in the notification, or falling under a description set forth therein, that evidence in cases in which an appeal is allowed shall be taken down by him in the English language and in manner prescribed.

Section 366(1) of the Code also states that 'The judgment in every trial in any Criminal Court of original jurisdiction shall be pronounced, or the substance of such judgment shall be explained- ……….. (b) in the language of the Court, or in some other language which the accused or his pleader understands: similarly a judgment of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court had opened an window that judgment can be delivered through the Bengali language'.

This is very unfortunate that a citizen of this country is wondering like a helpless man in the courtroom. A layman is unable to comprehend the communications made between judge and his advocate due to the language barrier. He or she perceives any verdict or the outcome of a trial from physical gestures and postures of his advocate and the judge. Is this compatible with the idea of the rule of law when access to justice and right to fair trial is what a layman seeks at the end of the day?

Against this backdrop, following steps are proposed to implement the Bengali language in full extent and in all the proceedings of the government and the courts:

a) A translation of the main part of a judgment of the Supreme Court should be published in Bengali language.

(b) Establishing a wing in the Supreme Court for translating all judgments since the independence of this county into Bengal language.

(c) Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs may take initiative to translate all Bangladesh codes into Bengali language.

(d) Many rules and regulations of the laws passed in parliament which are scattered need to be collected and translated into Bengali and the Bengali code should be published.

(e) A translation of CRPC, CPC, Evidence Act and the Rules of High Court and Court of Appeal need to be published in Bengali.

(f) A bill titled "Bengali Language Implementation in all proceedings of the State" should be presented before parliament.

Many experts have already opined that adopting English instead of Bengali in the proceedings of the court is incompatible with the constitution and laws of the land. After 50 years of independence and 70 years of the Language Movement, it is time Bangla was implemented in all the court proceedings.

Shafiqur Rahman is a lawyer.

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