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Two years have passed since a stalker murdered their beloved daughter Suraiya Akhter Risha but justice remains elusive in the cobweb of legal procedure. Parents of Risha, 14, a student of Willes Little Flower School, broke down in tears at a roundtable yesterday when they spoke of their loss and the legal battle in a system that fails to deliver justice to many female victims in the country. - A home for your website

The dialogue on “Judicial system for women: Bangladesh perspective” was organised by Amrai Pari (We Can), an alliance to end violence against women, at The Daily Star Centre, with Rokeya Kabir, national committee member of Amrai Pari, in the chair. 

Biased law, legal tangles, a lack of legal knowledge and sincerity of public prosecutors who represent victims in court, improper recording of First Information Report, improper investigation and witnesses not having legal protection are the factors contributing to the scenario, in which victims and their families are harassed even when they seek justice overcoming social barriers, speakers said.  

On top of that, there is a lack of political will to ensure justice for victims.

The budget allocation for the judiciary system is only Tk 1,521 crore for fiscal 2018-19, which is insignificant compared to the total budget of more than Tk 4.6 lakh crore, said Judge Shawkat Hossain, of Paribesh Adalat (environment court). 

Five hundred more courts, judges, infrastructure and logistics support are needed to expedite the trial proceedings, to ensure justice for all, he said. “For all these, money is required. The state doesnt want to spend money. I sometimes doubt if the state considers it important to ensure its citizens rights to justice.”

Above all, corruption in the judiciary system becomes a barrier to justice as well, said Barrister Tapash Kanti Baul, prosecutor of the International Crimes Tribunal.

Many countries keep records of sexual offenders so that they can easily be identified, for example, in the job market, he said, adding that the government could do that as a deterrent measure. 

In Rishas case, police submitted the charge sheet in November 2016. By June next year, 20 out of 26 witnesses gave their testimonies to the Additional Metropolitan Session Judges Court. When the court had already recorded the statement of the first investigation report (FIR), the defence counsels of the accused Obaidul Haque, 29, appealed to it to transfer the case to the Juvenile Court.

Having been rejected, the defence made the same prayer at Metropolitan Session Judges Court.

As the case was transferred to the Juvenile court, the defence in September last year wrote to the chief justice, requesting him to take steps to clarify if the accused, if convicted, should be punished under the Children Act 2013 or under section 302 of the Penal Code.

Since then, there has been no progress in the cases trial.

The Children Act, intended to ensure justice for children, is being abused by the defence in this case, said lawyers and womens rights advocates at the discussion.

Amid the delay in the legal procedure, the accused has been trying to get bail from the High Court, according to a press release of We Can. “If the accused is released on bail, he may flee and the victims familys and witnesses security become uncertain,” the rights organisation said in the press statement. 

Unlike Rishas case, the rape and murder case of 27-year-old law student Rupa Khatun witnessed a quick trial that was completed in just 14 workdays. Four accused were sentenced to death and another to seven years in jail by the trial court. 

The convicts challenged the verdict by filing appeals through the jail authorities.

Rupas brother said seven months had passed but the HC did not hold hearing on the jail appeal.

When sensational cases like Rishas and Rupas meet such fate, one wonders what victims go through when their plights do not get media attention, speakers said at the dialogue.

“If people lose faith in the judiciary, anarchic situations will arise in society,” said National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque, who attended the programme as the chief guest.

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