Problems and challenges of maritime court in Bangladesh
As per section 3 (1) of the Admiralty Court Act 2000 (Act No. 43 of 2000), High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh as Admiralty Court adjudicates all maritime disputes including marine commerce, marine navigation, maritime pollution, seafarers' salvage, collision, ship arrest, towages, lien, limitation rights, and the carriage by sea of both passengers and goods as well as covering land-based commercial activities that are maritime in character, such as marine insurance made under UK Marine Insurance Act, 1906 where the honourable Supreme Court of Bangladesh mandated to follow the UK Marine Insurance Act, 1906 in order to settle the disputes regarding marine insurance by means of ensuring compensation for losses in voyage.
In these contexts, a question may be raised that whether the admiralty court is able to dispose the suit quickly for the betterment of parties. It is well known that delay defects justice. As the jurisdiction of HCD is more than any other court so too many suits whether criminal and civil are dealt by this court. As a result, huge cases have been pending before the court. In order to dispose cases, in various cases, it (HCD) takes maximum 10 years or more which barricades the economic growth of our country and also. However, if the admiralty court is distinctive and separated from High Court Division in taking original jurisdiction, the suits regarding maritime can easily be disposed which will play a vital role in the economy of our county - by means of spreading mercantile businesses among foreign countries.
In order to getting rid of from such complexity and delay of disposing of admiralty suits following steps should be taken under consideration by the concerned authority.
Firstly, the admiralty court must be separated in each port area as there is no distinct court to adjudicate the suits regarding maritime disputes. According the section 3 of the Admiralty Court Act, 2000 the High Court Division shall be the court of admiralty court. It is a challenge for High Court Division as the admiralty court to dispose the suits fairly and quickly regarding maritime disputes.
The possibility of disposing the suits quickly is impossible because of its heavy jurisdiction. On the other hand, as a result of delay of justice the parties about to give up their expectation of getting judgment. But, if the court is distinct and separate then the disputes can be solved easily without any delay. It would be better for litigants.
Secondly, place of court should be choose in Chittagong, Mongla as well as Payra bondor or port. Though there have admiralty court in our country but it is situated in Dhaka where the communication system is very tough because of crowd place. The litigants can't appear before the court timely, as a result the trial proceeding is delayed. Overlay the whole trial system is bar to forward because of nonappearance of parties. If the Court is situated besides the port area such as Chittagong, Mongla and Payra, the suits can be disposed quickly without any delay. Here a diagram is shown to understand the importance of Marine Court in such three ports.In a research paper made by Dr. Zalal Uddin Ahmed (lecturer BGC Trust University), it is mentioned that in 2003, there were only 37 suits pending whereas in 2012 the number was 107. It indicats that day by day the percentige of pending admiralty suits is increasing.
In 2011, about 2,248 ship handled in Chittagong and about 234 ships handled at Mongla ports where the ships face various legal question to be settled by the court so the owners or parties of the ship have to present High Court Division to get relief but the court for its busyness and complexities can't dispose or ensure the justice quickly to the parties which snatch the parties confidence as well as respect to the court and its trial procedure.
Thirdly, Complex Trial Procedure should be removed. There is no unique trial procedure under the Admiralty Court Act, 2000. It follows the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The Act provides for filing of a suit in the Admiralty Court through a plaint in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure (The Admiralty Court Act, 2000, s.6) Except following Code of Civil Procedure, if it has own rules of trial procedure, the complexity would be removed and the disputes can easily be solved. It should be include ADR procedure for initial stage of a suit.
Fourthly, the challenges of the Admiralty Court can be settled by appointing adequate judge to adjudicate the maritime suits. It is very well known to all that in our judicial system, there have lack of judges to adjudicate the pending suits. As a result year by year the quantity of pending suits are increasing rather than decreasing. Generally, the Judges of the High Court is so limited and they deal huge cases both civil and criminal. So in proper time prescribed by law they can't dispose the suit. Special judge who have enough knowledge regarding national and international maritime laws should be appointed as judge of Admiralty Court and their security, privileges and posting procedure should be secured by the Act.
In this Act, the provision regarding privileges, qualifications, immunities are absent. It is also a gross challenge for the Admiralty Court to dispose case in proper time without keeping the case in pending whereas total civil suits till 2016 which was field before the High Court Division as original case are 93913. Amongst 93913 suits only 3665 suits have been disposed but left 90248 suits are pending before the said court (Annual Report of Supreme Court, 2016). It is also noted that gradually the score of pendency of suits before the High Court Division is increasing day by day.
Fifthly, Marine custody should be safe enough for ships. After arresting the ship, it should be kept in a safe place without neglecting so that the ship is not damaged. It is the duty of state to protect the ship from any damages at the time of placing in custody since a ship is very expensive while plays a significant role in spreading marine business. Therefore, in order to improve the judicial system regarding maritime court the above mentioned challenges should be removed by establishing distinct court which may be situated or placed in the port area such as Chittagong, Mongla as well as Payra so that the suit can be settled within short time along with removing complexity of judicial system like as short judges, pending suits, adequate qualitative advocate on maritime disputes etc.
The writer is apprentice lawyer, Lakshmipur District and Session Judge Court, Lakshmipur