Judicial Service Commission | A BROKEN DREAM | Status of Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy

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I was appointed the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission although Md. Mozammel Hossain was senior to me. The Judicial Service Commission is housed in a few rooms of the Judicial Training Institute (JTI). There was acute space scarcity for officers and staff. So, without delay I initiated a development program for vertical extension of the JTI building by three floors for proper accommodation. I knew that the government machinery moves very slowly, but I had a very short period to complete this work otherwise the project would be frustrated. I had the advantage that then Finance Secretary Fazle Kabir, a sound and sober, intelligent gentleman, was a member of the Commission. On one occasion, he himself volunteered that he knew me for a long time and he was one of my admirers. I told him that unless he supports me it would be difficult to complete the development of the Commission. He extended his hands willingly and assured me that whenever any genuine development would be necessary, he would provide the fund.

I directed my Secretary Farid Ahmed Sibli, a brilliant senior officer, to expedite the preparation of drawing and other paper work for vertical extension of the building. He had very good links with the officers and within a very short time the paper work for the extension of the building was prepared. Then I approached the Finance Secretary for the necessary fund. Once we received the fund and finalized plan I deputed an officer to oversee the development work. Meanwhile some brilliant officers were recruited in the Commission by removing some existing ones. Besides officers, I used to convene meetings with the engineers entrusted with the work. At one stage, I noticed that the contractor could not complete the project and the remaining fund was returned to the government after the end of the financial year. This annoyed me hugely because bringing back the fund after returning it would take time. I directed the contractor to continue his work and assured him that I would take care of the finance. Due to my persistent pressure, I surmise, the contractor abandoned the work.

I directed the office to forfeit his security money and directed the office to appoint a new contractor without delay. A new contractor was appointed but there was delay in providing the fund chiefly because of the Law Ministry’s tardiness in communicating with the Finance Ministry. I deputed an officer to liaise with the Finance Ministry and thus the project was completed within two years.

I had selected each item of the fittings of floors, toilets and purchasing the furniture. I arranged a conference room, two viva-voce examination rooms, a library, waiting room for the resource persons and another conference hall in the top floor. It was designed by me. Initially the hall was raised in the similar manner by putting grills and walls as are normally done. I told them that the hall should be installed with colored glasses without any wall in the manner the foreign countries made wall with glass. The contractor and engineer were confused with my advice. But I insisted on, to see the beautification of the Dhaka city from the hall and ultimately, I could prevail upon them. It is one of the most beautiful, well-built halls. Whenever foreign dignitaries visited the Commission they were entertained in that hall. They all praised seeing the architectural design and its interior design and beautification. Even the floors were so beautifully decorated that they commented that it is the best building they ever seen in Dhaka. I set up a new modern library with a huge collection of books and installed three computers in the middle of the room, with which other libraries in the world could be visited through digital means. I appointed a qualified librarian to look after the library.

The viva-voce exam rooms were in fact unused the whole year except for 10/15 days a year and sometimes even longer. I directed the office to convert the rooms in such a manner that they could be used as arbitration centers. The charge for each arbitration sitting was fixed at taka. 6,000. After the library and the arbitration center began operating, the retired judges who used to conduct arbitration proceedings were very happy and they used to recommend the venue at Judicial Service Commission. I kept the rent of the venue a bit lower than other private stakeholders arrange venue for arbitration. The arbitration proceedings are held in two shifts and the money is deposited in the government fund. In fact, the expense of the Commission can be borne out of the income through arbitration proceedings. I also set up an archive in the Commission, a gymnasium and a suite for accommodation of two guests keeping in mind that everywhere outside the country the judiciary maintains a guest house where visiting judges are provided. In all Indian States, there are separate guest houses for judges. So, whenever any judge intending to visit Bangladesh, the Chief Justice must face an awkward position. He must approach to the Law Minister, Attorney General or Foreign Minister to accommodate the guest at a 5-star hotel. After the suite was opened, judges from India and other countries are accommodated there. Because, the judges visiting our country contacted the Chief Justice for accommodation. The Chief Justice was put in an embarrassing position. Now the problem is solved. After I became the Chief Justice, I earmarked House No-1 of the Supreme Court judges’ complex as the rest house after renovating it. The Supreme Court is now equipped with a world class guest house.

In course of time, when I noticed that all question papers of public exams for the judiciary were leaked I talked with my officers about finding a solution that would prevent these episodes. I have entrusted two officers with the task and I directed the Commission office to make provisions for online acceptance of applications from prospective candidates. Under the existing system whenever an examination is scheduled to be held, the candidate must collect the application form from certain branches of the Sonali Bank only. In that case the applicant from remote areas of the country and who are residing abroad had to travel long way to collect the form. For improvement of the Commission’s exam process, I visited India, the UK, Scotland, Singapore and Indonesia and wanted to know their systems. I sought help from our Scotland counterparts to provide help in digitizing our system. They expressed their eagerness if any proposal was sent to them with our requirements. The examinations are held in three phases. The first examination was for screening out about sixty percent of candidates. Out of 5,000 to 8,000 candidates, selection is to be made only 100 or less. It was heavy task. There was provision for setting question by two examiners and then the questions were sent to a moderator for finalization. I decided that the procedure should be maintained but none of the questions prepared by examiners or moderators are finally kept in the examination. I used to sit with the Secretary for finalization of questions in such a twisted manner that it was difficult to imagine for the examiners how the questions were so changed. On one occasion the Public Service Commission also sought our help to improve their standard.

Our problem is that we were confined to certain laws beyond which we could not go. In the schedule of the Rules, the syllabus for the examination is restricted. Naturally, the question setters had to repeat many questions. In the Judicial Service Commission meetings, we adopted resolutions many times and requested the Law Secretary to amend the rules for setting questions according to the discretion of the Commission. In each meeting the Law Secretary assured us that he would do the needful, but we did not find any fruitful result. In the meetings the Janaproshason Secretary, the Finance Secretary, a professor of a public university attended, but no result ensued. On one occasion I asked the Law Secretary the reason for the delay. On hearing his reply, I was surprised. His reply was that if any Chairman aligned with the ideology of the BNP or Jamaat was appointed, he would set up questions in such a manner that they would ignore the history of our liberation war and progressive thinking. I told him that similar incident could happen at the PSC too. Moreover, if he could change the rules, what would stop the other political parties to alter the rules after coming to power?

The Law Secretary in fact made the Commission unworkable. I recollect an incident which was very pathetic. As per rule, within December 31, the Law Ministry was required to submit next year’s requisition for selection of candidates. In the academic session, possibly of 2013, no requisition was sent despite repeated requests. Sometime in April, he sent a requisition for 24 candidates. According to our estimation more than one hundred candidates could be recruited. I sent an officer to show the Law Secretary about the prospective vacant posts, which were about 150. The reasoning and the argument of necessity fell on deaf ears. He did not issue any modified requisition. We thought since an examination process is huge, and it was not the worthy of our time and energy to initiate an exam process for only 24 candidates. We could not persuade the Law Secretary to change his mind. At one point, he said that if he modified the requisition he would be sent to jail. I showed him the chart of officers who were supposed to go on retirement and it would take only ten minutes to calculate. Ultimately, we were able to convince him to send requisition for 54 candidates, although there were 150 vacant posts.

The examination process was lengthy that it takes one and a half years to complete. The Ministry takes six months for gazette notification after police verification. We felt the adverse effect of this cumbersome process in 2015 and 2016. There was acute shortage of Assistant Judges. After appointment of an officer he cannot become a full-fledged judge in a couple of years. He requires training and he must undergo a departmental examination after two years of appointment. To turn out a mature judicial officer it takes six to seven years. Consequently, if the appointment process is delayed, the litigants suffer due to shortage of courts. In 2016, the Chairman had published notification for appointment of around 100 candidates, but he was compelled to publish results of 300 candidates. There is lot of difficulty in the recruitment of more than 100 candidates in a batch, because after their recruitment, some of the officers who were at the top in seniority would be promoted to the level of Additional District Judges but some of their batchmates would remain as Senior Assistant Judges, thus creating embarrassment for them.

I also introduced various modifications in the examination system. The first process is after submission of application, there was a system of decoding the applicants and the coding was made so secretly that only a member of the Commission who is trusted is given the task for decoding. Then the question papers were prepared in the similar way that followed in the preliminary. Three sets of questions were prepared through three examiners on a subject and sent to the moderators and the chairman finalized one set of question changing altogether in different manner those prepared by examiners and moderators to avoid the possibility of leakage and repetition. We discovered that most of the question papers were leaked from BG Press. Therefore, we decided that not only the question papers, but the answer scripts should also be prepared by the Commission despite its inadequate number of staffs. Nevertheless, we purchased three printing machines and thence onward we printed all the question papers and answer scripts and the
Commission became self-sufficient. By the time I left the Commission, it had been transformed into a self-sufficient institution. The system became foolproof to the extent that even if the Chairman of the Commission wanted to make a candidate successful, he would not be able to do so. We had prepared a video cassette to display the transparency of our new system. After looking at the video, our New Delhi counterpart greatly appreciated our mode of exams and told us that he would introduce a similar system in the next exam in New Delhi.

As Chairman of the Commission, as I’ve recounted earlier, I visited many countries to acquaint myself with the various processes followed elsewhere. While in India I met the Chief Justice of India and other senior judges and held an official meeting in which the senior most judge and other high officials were present. Our High Commissioner was also present during the discussions. There I sought cooperation for the training of the judges of the Supreme Court in the National Judicial Training Institute, Bhopal. Chief Justice Altamas Kabir assured us of arranging the necessary training, adding that Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Bhutanese judges were availing the training opportunity there. During my tenure as Chief Justice the first batch of judges attended their training there.

In Indonesia, when I met the Chief Justice and the Chairman of the Judicial Appointment Commission I came to know that they select brilliant young law graduates from the universities for training as judges and for other positions. They called this “Green Harvesting”. The same system is followed in Singapore and South Korea as well. The best students are selected as judicial officers and the second batch of good students are appointed as public prosecutors and the last batch can practice in the courts as lawyers. I also talked with the Attorney General whose rank is equivalent to a cabinet minister. I have been to the Judicial Training Institute in Indonesia and seen the trainers’ training program. I had the privilege of speaking a few words in both the training programs at the request of my counterpart who was a woman in charge of the Commission. I apprised them of our strong judicial heritage and the functioning of the court system. In UK and Scotland, the appointment process is completely different from other countries. The Commissions are headed by laymen and other members are judges of the highest courts and members of different communities who have practical knowledge of socio-political affairs. Even judges of the highest court are selected based on applications filed by the candidates. In England, even a magistrate’s minimum eligibility for appointment is Barrister with experience of not less than ten years.

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