There are currently 36 lakh pending cases with courts across the country. In light of this huge backlog, Law Minister Anisul Huq stated earlier this year that the government will take initiatives to clear at least five to six lakh of these cases within 2020.
As of March 31 last year, a total of 35,82,347 cases were pending with courts across the country. Of them, around 30.53 lakh cases were pending with the lower courts, some 22,000 cases with the Appellate Division, and 5.06 lakh with the High Court Division, according to a Supreme Court report.
However, circumstances have changed drastically due to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus that is not only threatening mass deaths, but also looks set to disrupt almost all spheres of society, brings with it an adverse impact on the legal process too.
With an adverse impact falling on court functions in the country, the minister says the government cannot but readjust the goal to clear out the backlog.
"If courts remain closed for 15, 20 or 30 days for the coronavirus outbreak, case disposal will be hampered. This means our target to clear around six lakh pending cases from the total backlog within this year cannot be fulfilled" he told The Daily Star on April 3.
He said other than the ones over the most urgent matters, no pending cases are being heard and disposed of right now. This is certainly having a negative impact on the judiciary and justice seekers, he added.
The minister, however, said the government will take measures required to recover the lost time after the courts reopen once the crisis subsides.
"The government's first priority now is to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and save people's lives. Once the crisis is over, we will fix a plan and take necessary steps to increase the rate of case disposal in order to recover the loss," Minister Anisul Huq said.
Meanwhile, few legal experts, including Attorney General Mahbubey Alarm, recently told this newspaper that prisoners who have been sentenced and might be sentenced to imprisonment for a short period may be released from jail following scrutiny of their case files through magistrates' offices in order to avoid the risk of Covid-19 transmission in the country's overcrowded jails.
Replying to a separate question, minister Anisul said the government has no plans to appoint new judges to the courts at this moment due to its full commitment in fighting back the virus.