Law experts and rights activists have said that punishing people by mobile courts run by executive magistrates denying the accused their right to self-defence is unconstitutional and a flagrant violation of human rights.
According to them, the Mobile Court Act 2009, enacted by the present government empowering mobile courts to sentence any person to two years by summary trial on the spot is illegal and unconstitutional.
Eminent lawyer Rafique-ul Huq, Supreme Court Bar Association president Khandker Mahbub Hossain, also a criminal law expert, rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra executive director Sultana Kamal, also former adviser to a caretaker government, and rights organisation Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan, also a Supreme Court lawyer, on Monday expressed grave concern over handing down sentences by mobile courts for picketing during the opposition-sponsored 36-hour countrywide general strike that ended on Monday evening.
Rafique, Mahbub and Adilur told New Age on Monday that mobile courts could not be run by executive magistrates after the separation of the judiciary.
The judiciary was made independent on November 1, 2007 stripping the executive magistrates, who had been running the judicial magistracy, of their judicial powers.
The then military-controlled interim regime, however, under pressure from the administrative cadre officials, promulgated the Mobile Courts Ordinance 2007 on October 29, 2007 making provisions for mobile court operation by executive magistrates in order to retain some of their judicial powers.
The ordinance stipulated that the mobile courts run by executive magistrates would have power to hold on-the-spot trials of some specific offences and could only fine the offenders.
The present government, however, enacted the Mobile Court Act 2009 on October 6, 2009 empowering the mobile courts to sentence suspects for two years.
Operation of mobile courts under executive magistrates is totally illegal, and none but the judicial officers should have the judicial powers, especially the power to sentence a person, after the separation of the judiciary, said Rafique, Mahbub and Adilur.
According to the act, the magistrate of a mobile court can take cognisance of an offence committed in front of the magistrate. The magistrate needs to frame the charge against the accused in writing and read it out to the accused with explanations and then ask the latter whether he admits the crime.
If the accused confesses to the crime, the magistrate can punish him on the spot on the basis of the admission and evidence after hearing the witnesses.
If the accused does not confess to the crime, the magistrate needs to ask the police to record a first information report against the person, the law stipulates.
Referring to the act, Mahbub, Sultana and Adilur said that the legal procedures stipulated in the act were not followed by the mobile courts in punishing people during the strike on Sunday and Monday and on the eve of the strike.
In most of the cases, the police arrested the people, brought them to the mobile courts which then handed down sentences, they said.
Rafique, Mahbub, Sultana and Adilur also said that the law empowered the mobile courts to punish criminal offenders only, but the mobile courts had sentenced people in the last three days for political actions which could not be considered as criminal offence.
This is for the first time that the mobile courts have been launched against a political programme, they said.
-With New Age input