- Dhaka Adalat Para hosts 118 courts with around 6 lakh cases
- Most courts have no separate courtrooms, record offices inadequate too
- Litigants' waiting space shortage adds up to poor sanitation, potable water crises
- Fewer elevators at the court buildings, there are hawkers and drug abusers menace too
- Minister promises new multi-storied buildings, addressing the issues promptly
The Dhaka lower court area (Adalat Para) on the banks of the Buriganga river continues to be synonymous with immense sufferings for the litigants despite having 118 courts, the highest, with around 6 lakh cases.
On a regular day, nearly 50,000 people, including lawyers and litigants, crowd into the congested courtyards in Old Dhaka that do not have the minimum facilities, such as a separate courtroom for each court, storage for court records, potable water supply and sanitation.
The Dhaka Bar Association says the poor management issues prevent most of the courts from operating at their full capacity, intensifying the case backlogs.
Due to the long-standing courtroom crisis, many courts have to share courtrooms crowded with litigants and lawyers.
Take the matter of the Special Judge Court-1 on the fifth floor of the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court. The Special Judge Court-1 sits in the morning, with the same courtroom turning into the Cyber Tribunal at noon.
The Speedy Trial Tribunal-3 shares the courtroom with the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal. Similarly, the courtroom, Women-Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-7, on the second floor of Rebati Mansion turns into Women-Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-1 at noon.
The courtroom of the Women-Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-6 on the fourth floor of the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court hosts the Women-Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-9 later in the afternoon.
The list is quite long as there are too many courts that have to share rooms.
Abdul Baten, president of the Dhaka Bar Association, said, "Courtroom sharing is awkward. It deters the courts in acting at their full capacity, contributing to the court backlogs."
Apart from the courtroom, there is also a severe record room crisis at the lower courts. Case documents are stored in tiny store rooms by the corridors for the judges. The storage system is old and manual – with files simply piling up.
The lower courts also do not have potable water supply and enough toilets for the litigants and the lawyers.
At the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court building, there are only three toilets on the second, third and fifth floor for the public, with two other restrooms found locked.
A new public toilet has been built beside the Dhaka District Judge's Court. But it is too messy to use.
Though thousands of people from faraway districts come to the Dhaka District Judge's Court, the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court, The Chief Judicial Magistrate Court and the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court every day, there are no waiting rooms or seating arrangements for the litigants.
"Though the courtrooms have seating arrangements for lawyers, there are no such facilities for us," a litigant told The Business Standard on 24 June. "We have to stand in the court corridors for hours."
"Management is too poor, and unprecedented," said Matin Chowdhury, who came to a lower court from Savar for a hearing. "On many days, I could not sit all day and had to stand due to the space crisis."
The ten-storied Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court building has only two elevators with an eight-person capacity each. But there are 34 courts in the building, and thousands of people come to the place every day.
Both lawyers and litigants said two elevators were not enough.
Ashraf-Ul Alam, a senior Dhaka court lawyer, said, "Since the litigants, even if they are elderly or sick, are not allowed to take the lifts, people have to take the stairs up to the ninth floor most of the time."
With 29 courts, the five-storied Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court has an elevator shortage too. The building has two lifts with a 6-person capacity each.
The six-storied Dhaka District Judge's Court building has only one lift now in operation for people to 20 courts in the building.
Grappling with hawkers, drug abusers
Outsiders and middlemen have uninterrupted access to the court areas, with litigants often falling victim to pickpockets.
Hundreds of hawkers and vendors roam around the court areas in the daytime, while drug abusers and vagabonds take over at night.
Piled up garbage at the court area have turned into safe breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The main gate of the Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court has waste in a heap beside it.
Prison vans with inmates usually park beside the mess as prisoners' relatives rush to the vehicles to see their loved ones.
Gazi Shah Alam, former president of Dhaka Bar Association, said, "If the issues and nuisance are not addressed and settled promptly, the court area will go off-limits to people."
When contacted, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the construction of a new metropolitan magistrate court building was going on. Besides, the government had plans to construct more buildings to accommodate the courts.
"Once construction is completed, I hope the sufferings of litigants will be over. We are sincere about identifying the issues and resolving them immediately," he added.