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900 death references pending in higher courts

Over 2000 death row-convicts now in condemned cells

Published : 21 Oct 2021 10:17 PM | Updated : 23 Oct 2021 12:15 PM

The death references of lots of death-row convicts in various cases, especially murder cases, are pending in the High Court and Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Appeals filed by many of the death-row convicts are also pending for hearing.

According to the High Court and prisons sources, nearly 900 death references are pending before the High Court for disposal for the last couple of years after delivery of the verdicts by the trial courts. The death references are pending because of the backlog of cases.

The sources said that the number of the death-row convicts is over 2,000, while over 1,300 appeals of such convicts are pending for hearing in the High Court and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for years.

Paper books in many of the cases have already been prepared, but these are not being disposed of due to the backlog of the cases and shortage of judge in the High Court and the Appellate Division.

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The cases include sensational August 21 grenade attack case, Feni madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi murder case and Holy Artisan Attack case. The Covid-19 pandemic  delayed the hearing in  the cases although the State side was ready to join the hearing .

According to the Directorate of Prison sources, there are 2006 death-row convicts in the country’s 67 jails as of June this year. Of the death-row convicts, a total of 1,952 are males and 54 are females, said an official of the office of the inspector general of prisons.

He, however, said that the number of the death-row convicts in the jails is the highest ever.

Mohammad Saifur Rahman, Supreme Court spokesperson and High Court Division Special Officer, said that a total of 780 death references were pending with the High Court as of December 31 in 2020 and nearly 100 others have been added in the last nine months.

He said that there was a delay in starting hearing in the death reference cases because the court was not in operation physically for a long time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Experts on criminal law and cases said that the hearing is being delayed due to delays in preparing the paper books for hearing the death reference cases. Shortage of death reference benches and judges and unnecessary time seeking during the hearing also cause backlog of the cases.

Dr Shahdeen Malik, an expert on law, said that it is inhuman that when a trial court awards a death sentence to any person, he is immediately taken to the condemned cell after receiving the judgment. A condemned cell is a small room where a death-row convict is kept.  The convict has to stay in the condemned cell for years until the case is disposed of. It is unexpected, he added.  

He suggested hearing death reference cases on a priority basis.  The benches for dealing with death references and appeals should be increased, he opined.  

Deputy Attorney General Bashir Ahmed also said that the number of High Court benches should be increased for speedy disposal of the pending death reference cases.

Sources said that the death references for the years 2015 and 2016 are now being heard by the High Court division.

According to Section 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), if a lower court awards the death penalty, the verdict is examined by the High Court for confirmation of the punishment.

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