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How Bangladesh offers justice for children

Barrister Nazir Ahmed’s weekly column, 13.02.15

Barrister Nazir Ahmed reviews Towards a justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh: a guide and case law on children in conflict with the law, by Justice M Imman Ali, published by Unicef Bangladesh.

FullSizeRender2Justice M Imman Ali, a talented Judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh – the highest court of the land – has written a book entitled Towards a justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh: a guide and case law on children in conflict with the law. The book consists of 609 pages. It contains a bibliography with more than 30 sources, a list of laws amounting to 30 and list of cases amounting to more than 45. It also contains a list of all relevant international instruments. The book has been published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It has been dedicated partly to the author’s ancestors and partly to the children of Bangladesh. The author, in the preface and acknowledgment section, expressed his thanks, appreciation and deep gratitude to many individuals, institutions and organisations for their help, support, encouragement and inspiration.

The book is divided into nine Chapters. Chapter I is an introductory chapter. Here, the author has narrated the background and objectives of the book. He briefly describes the methodology, terminology and sources he used for the book. He identifies the scope and limitations and outlines, in brief, the structure of the book. Chapter II deals with the international legal framework on children’s rights and justice for children. This chapter is intended to act as a background to the other chapters of the book. Chapter III deals with children in conflict with the law under the Children Act 1974. Chapter IV deals with arrest, bail and pre-trial detention. Here, the author discusses the discretionary power of the police to arrest children for minor offences and the relevant procedures for first time offenders.

Chapter V deals with the jurisdiction of the court. The author has broadly divided the Chapter into two parts. Part one deal with jurisdiction over the person and part two deals with jurisdiction over the offence. Chapter VI deals with trial procedures. The author fully explains the procedures that need to be followed in cases before the Juvenile Courts. Chapter VII deals with sentencing by the Juvenile Courts. The author explains in detail the process and duties of the Court in disposing of a case under the Children Act 1974. Chapter VIII deals with the custody and detention. The author discusses the procedures for and conditions of custody and detention of offenders and the possibilities of release as well as the custody of victims and children in need of care and protection. The final Chapter, Chapter IX, is the conclusion. Here the author summarises the main principles of the regime for children under the Children Act and outlines the issues that need to be addressed to move towards a justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh.

Justice M Imman Ali is one of the talented judges in the Apex Court of Bangladesh. He was born in Bangladesh but brought up and educated in the United Kingdom: he spent his childhood and went to school in England. He completed his BA (Hons) Law at the University of Trent in Newcastle, UK, and then took an LLM at the University of Leicester, UK. He was called to the English Bar in July 1978 by the Honourable Society of Inner Temple. Justice M Imman Ali has been enrolled with the Bangladesh Bar Council as an Advocate since 1979. He was then enrolled as an Advocate of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court in May 1982 and Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in August 1995. He served as a Deputy Attorney General of Bangladesh before he was elevated to the High Court as an Additional Judge on 22nd February 2001. On 22nd February 2003, he was confirmed as a Judge of the High Court Division of Bangladesh. Justice M Imman Ali was elevated to the Appellate Division of Bangladesh on 23rd February 2011.

Besides holding a shining legal and then judicial career, Justice M Imman Ali participated in many international workshops, seminars, conferences, symposiums and training programmes held in South Korea, Indonesia and the Czech Republic in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000; India in 2003; in Malaysia and New Zealand in 2008; in the UK and Malawi in 2009; in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2009; in Australia in 2010; in New Delhi in 2011; and in Bangkok, the USA, Scotland, Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan in 2012. He also took part in training of judges and prosecutors of Armenia on juvenile justice in December 2012. He has visited many other countries for different purposes. Domestically, Justice M Imman Ali acted as a resource person for the training of judges, lawyers, police officers and social welfare officers under the auspicious of the Judicial Administration Training Institute (JATI) and Legal Education & Training Institutes (LETI).

During his practice in England and at the Bar in Bangladesh, Justice M Imman Ali came into contact with vulnerable women and children who were subjected to harsh treatment by the state and generally. As a result he developed a keen interest in the rights of women and children, particularly in how they were treated within the justice system. Since his elevation to the High Court of Bangladesh in February 2001, he has dealt with many cases concerning human rights and the rights of women and children in particular. Notable among his judgements is the case of State -v- Roushan Mondol & Hashem, reported in 59 DLR 72, delivered in 2006, which is considered as a landmark and leading judgment in the area of justice for children in Bangladesh. Since then, he has delivered many other judgements in the field of justice for children in his role as the Presiding Judge of the High Court Division. The author thus acquired a wider knowledge in the realm of justice for children not only through the cases that he has dealt with, but also the numerous seminars, symposium, workshops and conferences which he has attended nationally and internationally.

This book has attempted to cover a wide range of issues simultaneously. In that sense, it may be said that the book is not a detailed, in-depth study of any particular issue based on empirical data with a conventional research methodology. However, this is not solely an academic book of the kind that we frequently see, and nor is it a book resulting from a doctoral or post-doctoral thesis. Rather, it is a book resulting from the author’s vast legal and judicial experience and the particular expertise that the author developed from his legal and judicial carer. In that sense, the book is an in-depth guide, based on primary and secondary sources, on the juvenile justice and the justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh. In author’s own words “So, I started with the intention of putting together a complication of cases but ended up writing a book. However, I do not really consider it a ‘book’ but rather a guide to the Children Act 1974, the Children Rules, 1976 and the relevant case-law for professionals dealing with children.”

The author is currently a sitting Judge in the highest court of Bangladesh. When he wrote the book, he was a sitting judge of the High Court of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. No matter which country they are in, the judges of the Apex Court normally lead an extremely busy life. They are required to hear lengthy cases, read and go through voluminous bundles and papers, and then they have to take on the painstaking work of writing lengthy judgements, utilising their wealth of wisdom and judicial analytical power. While judges in developed countries enjoy the support of sophisticated resources, this is not the case in a developing or third world countries. There the judges work extremely hard in an environment with limited resources. Given this environment and background, Justice M Imman Ali has taken an admirable step in writing a book containing 609 pages. It is, no doubt, an outstanding contribution towards the legal system of Bangladesh in general and justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh in particular.

The judges voluntarily lead a self-censored and restricted life. They do not openly participate in public life, and neither do they express their opinions in public. They avoid all sorts of controversy. Books are essentially the opinions of the authors. We all know that opinions can be differed with. The author seems to be well aware of this and acknowledges certain constraints. He said, in the preface, “Being a sitting judge, I understand that there are certain constraints on writing ‘books’ on law and expressing opinions, since the very same may be quoted in Courts in support of any argument. Being conscious of these constraints, I have quoted copiously from judgements of the High Court Division and Appellate Division as well some relevant decisions from other jurisdictions.”

Having given a mildly critical view above, I would say that this book is a distinct one in the sense that it is not a usual descriptive kind book on the law – the type, in different forms and styles, we normally see in the market. It is, rather, a unique book, based on comparative analysis and experience and derived from primary and secondary sources, in which the author has assimilated all relevant national and international instruments for justice delivery system for children. I attended a book launching ceremony for the author’s book in London around couple of years ago organised by Penal Reform International. Justice M Imman Ali gave a short presentation on his book. The Chair of the launching programme was so impressed by the quality of the presentation that she later commented “I was so impressed, if he was not a judge I would have invited him to the BBC for in-depth discussion.”

Compiling a book consisting of 609 pages is not an easy task. It is, no doubt, a very hard, painful, expensive and lengthy task, which the author had, despite his extremely busy judicial duties, taken on his shoulder with comfort and passion. I hope this book will, to a great extent, help readers to understand juvenile justice and the justice delivery system for children in Bangladesh. The book will be an invaluable asset for the judges, legal practitioners and law enforcement agencies, such as the police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and others. I wish the author good health, well-being and long life so that the nation can benefit from his outstanding wisdom, talent and innovative judicial mind.

I was lucky to have met Justice M Imman Ali many times in London and few times in Bangladesh and spent hours with him. I visited several times the house where he lived and had dinners with him. Justice M Imman Ali shared many things during my hours-long association with him. I found him as a smart, articulate and sharp intellectual, full of wisdom and talent. His style of expression is extraordinary. Personally Justice M Imman Ali is a pious man, but he is liberal, respectful and accommodative in his thinking and approach. Bangladesh judiciary should really be proud of him.

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