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Record number of death references before HC

Special initiative taken for quick disposal

Published : 12 Mar 2022 09:51 PM | Updated : 13 Mar 2022 01:42 PM

The High Court is witnessing a record number of death references, including in many sensational and notable cases.

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

The notable cases include August 21 grenade attack cases, Chattogram’s 10 truck arms haul case, Ramna Batamul bomb blast case, Holey Artisan Attack case, Feni’s madrasa student Nusrat Jahan Rafi murder case, and Barishal’s Rifat Sharif murder case. 

High Court sources said that over 800 death reference cases are now pending with the High Court. 

Most of the death references and relevant appeals are unresolved 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.

Thousands of death-row convicts in the cases are now languishing in condemned cells of jails across the country. A person is sent to a condemned cell once he is sentenced to death in a case.

A death reference is the record of a death sentence. If any lower court sentences any person to death, its judgment is examined by the High Court through hearing arguments for confirmation of the death sentence, when the sentence may be increased, decreased, canceled or upheld.

The case documents and judgements reach the HC as death reference from the lower court after the latter delivers the verdict as per relevant provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

High Court sources said that paper books in many of the death reference cases have already been prepared, but these are not being disposed of due to the backlog of the cases.

However, a special initiative has been taken to quickly dispose of the death references of 800 cases now pending with the High Court.

Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique constituted 11 HC benches for hearing and disposing of the death references and relevant appeals.

The benches will hold the hearing from March 20 to March 31, said Supreme Court’s spokesman Md Saifur Rahman.

He said that there was also 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 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 judgement. 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, said Advocate Mujahid Shaheen, a lawyer of Bangladesh Supreme Court. 

He said that death reference hearings do not take such a long time in the High Court in any other country except Bangladesh. He, however, hailed the initiative of Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique and said the constitution of 11 HC benches for hearing and disposing of the death references and relevant appeals will play a vital role in this regard. 

Death references of August 21 grenade attack cases remain held up for about three and half years. 

After a long 14 years’ wait, a Dhaka court on October 10 in 2018 handed down the punishment to 49 persons. Among them, 19 people got death penalty. They include former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, ex-deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, former NSI chief Brig Gen (retd) Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury, former DGFI director Brig Gen (retd) Abdur Rahim, and owner of Hanif Paribahan, Mohammad Hanif. 

The death references on the cases reached the HC on November 27 in 2018. 

At least 24 people were killed and around 300 injured in the horrible attack on an Awami League rally in the capital on August 21 in 2004. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the then opposition leader in the parliament, narrowly escaped.

In 2014, the trial court in its verdict awarded the death sentence to eight militants and life imprisonment to six others over the militant attack on Pahela Baishakh celebrations at the Ramna Batamul on April 14 in 2001. Ten people were killed in that attack. The death reference and jail appeal in the case are now with the High Court. 

On November 27 in 2019, a Dhaka court sentenced seven militants to death in the sensational Holey Artisan attack case.

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