This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ curates the notable pronouncements of the Appellate Division (AD) and the High Court Division (HCD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh in June 2023.

HCD orders investigation regarding accusations of money laundering involving illicit drug businesses

On 1 February 2021, two lawyers from the Supreme Court including Subir Nandi Das, lodged a writ petition requesting directions to promptly undertake suitable measures for the recovery of substantial sums of money that have been surreptitiously deposited in offshore financial institutions, particularly Swiss banks, as a result of illicit activities involving citizens and entities of Bangladesh. On 13 June, Subir Nandi Das submitted a supplementary petition in light of the report published by The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) regarding illicit financial transactions on their official website seeking the order for submitting a report on the investigation into alleged laundering of Tk 51 billion by means of drug business.  The Anti-Corruption Commission, National Board of Revenue, Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit, Criminal Investigation Department of police and Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) were made respondents in the petition.

The HCD bench comprising Justice Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Khijir Hayat passed the order along with a rule hearing a supplemental petition. The HCD instructed the DNC to provide a list of the nation’s most prominent drug traffickers, complete with their addresses, within a month.  Simultaneously, the HCD ordered the relevant authorities to initiate an investigation within a two-month timeframe regarding the accusation of money laundering derived from illicit drug trafficking activities involving Bangladeshi nationals.

According to the UNCTAD report, between 2017 and 2021, the average annual outward illicit financial flows (IFFs) from drug trafficking in Bangladesh were estimated to be $481 million. The Narcotics Control Act of 2018 serves as the principal legislative framework in Bangladesh for the control of narcotics, reduction of supply and demand, prevention of abuse and smuggling and oversight of activities pertaining to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. It outlines various provisions prohibiting the possession, cultivation, production, carried, conveyance import or exported sale, trafficking, and transportation, of illegal drugs, as well as the penalties for these offenses. The legislation forbids the production, manufacturing, and sale of narcotics, and imposes severe penalties for these violations, including the possibility of capital punishment and life imprisonment in certain instances. The Money Laundering Prevention Act of 2012 pertains to the illicit acquisition of funds and assets derived from drug trafficking activities and outlines provisions for the seizure of such property and resources obtained through drug-related criminal acts. The primary objective of this legislation is to mitigate the occurrence of money laundering within the context of drug-related offences. 

Despite the presence of rigorous legislation and severe penalties, the issue continues to persist in Bangladesh. The underlying causes of this matter are deeply rooted, frequently encompassing intricate socioeconomic elements and the attraction of unlawful profits. Although legal measures play a crucial role, it is imperative to supplement them with comprehensive methods that encompass the demand for drugs, addiction treatment, and wider societal concerns. The mitigation of this issue can only be achieved through the implementation of a comprehensive approach.

HCD prohibits public opinion on media until the probe of ACC ends

On 15 May 2023, the HCD issued a directive to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to initiate an investigation into the allegations of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement against Kazi Salahuddin, the President of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), Abdus Salam Murshedy, the Senior Vice President, Abu Naim Sohag, the former general secretary, and other officials affiliated with the organisation. 

A writ petition was then filed, seeking directives to have false and defamatory statements concerning BFF President Kazi Salahuddin removed from the public domain. The respondents to the rule included the Governor of the Bangladesh Bank, the secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the chairman of the ACC, the chief of the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), the chairman of the NBR, the president of the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF), as well as its senior vice president and former general secretary.

The BFF official was represented by Senior Advocate Ajmalul Hossain KC and Advocate Momtaz Uddin Fakir, while Barrister Aneek R Haque and Barrister Syed Sayedul Haque Suman were present as opposing counsel.

An HCD bench consisting of Justice Zafar Ahmed and Justice Md Bashir Ullah following the hearing ruled, in pursuant to the petition prohibited anyone from expressing opinion on the media on corruption and money laundering allegations against the BFF until the probe is complete. 

The prohibition of public expressions of opinion, especially in media where it circulates rapidly regarding an ongoing legal matter is needed from a procedural standpoint in order to uphold the integrity and impartiality of the proceedings. This limitation serves to mitigate the possibility of prejudice or bias exerting an influence on the proceedings. The purpose of this measure is to guarantee that individuals involved in proceedings are able to render unbiased judgements solely on the basis of the evidence presented during the probe, without being influenced by popular opinion. In addition, it serves to protect the accused’s entitlement to a just trial, so sustaining the fundamental tenet of presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of justice, upholding the principle that individuals should be treated as innocent until proven guilty.  Although the imposition of this constraint on the exercise of free speech may appear constraining, it fulfils a crucial procedural function by advancing the principles of due process and safeguarding the legal entitlements of those implicated in the matter. 

HCD issues order to recruit jail physicians in vacant posts within a month

On 18 February 2019, Supreme Court lawyer Md JR Khan Robin filed a writ petition seeking necessary directives over vacant physician positions in jails. The HCD bench of Justice KM Kamrul Kader and Justice Mohammad Shawkat Ali Chowdhury directed authorities concerned to appoint doctors to the vacant posts in prisons across the country within a month.

The Court also expressed dissatisfaction over the delay in recruiting doctors in prisons. It criticized the Director General of the Health, Directorate, and the Inspector General of Prisons saying that power should be utilized for the service of humanity, not abuse. Moreover, HCD urged the health directorate and the prison authorities to comply with the court order promptly.

The HCD earlier issued a rule ordering the jail authority to submit a list of inmate capacity, number of inmates and doctors, and vacancies for the post of doctors in all prisons across the country. According to that order, the prison authority reported in November 2019 that there are only 10 doctors against 141 posts in 68 prisons in the country. After seeing the report, the HCD had ordered doctors’ appointments in the prisons. As the state must ensure prisoners’ health care, the Secretary of the Security Services, Department of the Home Ministry and the prison authorities had been asked to implement the order by 11 December.

On 21 September 2021, it was reported that out of 141 vacant posts, a total number of 112 doctors have been appointed in 68 prisons in the country. After further hearing, the HCD ordered the speedy appointment of doctors in the remaining vacant posts. 

The Government has international obligations concerning the right to life and health of all citizens under several instruments, one of which is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Bangladesh is committed to “treat all persons deprived of liberty with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person” and to “protect the right to life of all human beings” under Article 10 and Article 6 of ICCPR respectively. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (known as Nelson Mandela Rules) meanwhile, set out measures to protect prisoners. According to Rule 25 of the Nelson Mandela Rules, decisions about a prisoner’s health should be taken only on medical grounds by medically qualified people. Medical personnel have to follow the principles of Medical Ethics in this regard. Furthermore, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, gives everyone the right to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” and requires State Parties to take necessary steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.” According to Article 18 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, the improvement of public health is the primary duty of the state. So, the order of HCD is laudable to ensure that concerned authorities respect the rights of prisoners. 

The author was assisted by Mosammat Jannatul Ferdouse, who is currently serving as an intern at Dhaka Law Review.