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By Raihan Rahman Rafid

Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) organized a symposium on imprisonment for life as imprisonment till death at the BILIA auditorium on Saturday, May 20, 2017. The symposium focused on the recent Bangladesh Supreme Court judgement that interpreted imprisonment for life as imprisonment till the death of the convict. The constitutional and jurisprudential issues and implications arising from this recent verdict were addressed by the speakers in presence of more than hundred legal scholars, academicians, practitioners as well as law students.

At the very onset, Dr. Shahdeen Malik welcomed everyone in his short inaugural speech and introduced the chair of the event, Kazi Habibul Awal, Former Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. Later, Dr. Muhammad Mahbubur Rahman, Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka was requested to present his paper on ‘Imprisonment for Life: Age-old Practices vis-a-vis Recent Developments in Jurisprudence’.

Professor Dr. Mahbub, analysing the new law and it’s consequences on the basis on the Penal Code 1860, and Criminal Procedure Code, pointed out the contradictions that has arisen. Also, he compared the capital punishment and life imprisonment scenario of India and Pakistan with that of Bangladesh. According to him, the idea of imprisonment until death is highly influenced by the Indian Court judgments. However, he thinks that the case of Bangladesh is different from India so far section 57 of the Penal Code is concerned. In India, remission under jail rule can not supersede section 433A, and set off is also counted as against 14 years rule provided in S. 433A. He referred some cases from Pakistan High Court for affirming his stand. Estimating the nearest possible number of homicides in India and Bangladesh, Professor Dr. Mahbub showed that we are delivering more life imprisonment verdicts and almost all the convicted persons of which are given remission. He questioned the possible outcome of imprisonment till death and if the state is ready to monitor inevitable increase in the prisoners number, also ready for the health assistance of prisoners when they would become old.

Dr. Ridwanul Hoque, Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka was then invited to present his paper on ‘Constitutionalism and the Concept of Whole- life Sentence in Bangladesh’. Dr. Ridwan defined Constitutionalism as rule of law on the basis of justice. He presented a comparative discussion between the whole life sentence in UK, South Africa and Bangladesh.

However, while talking about the Ataur Mridha Case, he said that the determination of the jail period of life sentence was not the issue of the case in the first place and such ‘shabby’ interference would result in an inconsistency between the judgements of the higher and lower courts. Dr. Ridwan thinks that the interpretation of life imprisonment is an uncritical follow of Indian jurisprudence in light of comparative judicial decisions.

Afterwards, Professor Mokerrom Hossain, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University, USA reviewed both the papers presented and in his discussion he adopted a non legal approach, continued more from a general perspective. He said, we are part of a human society and the question is how we would perceive the ones who gets involved in criminal activities among us. Till this day, the law in the society is confusing and the change can hardly be seen. Speaking about the judgment, he referred the 90 pages judgment as contradicting to itself and to some extent confusing. As a general person, the question and doubt about the relationship between three organs of the state is thought-provoking, he said. Furthemore, he opined that, In 1947, the colonial rules should have been uprooted, however the leaders at the time for some reason didn’t realize it’s consequence then, which are affecting us even today. He ended his discussion raising the question, “ In reality what is happening to the life of a person who gets convicted? ” Law is nothing but a social construct and it should concentrate on reconstructing the lives rather than confining them.

A short question and answer session took place after the conclusion of the paper presentation and review discussion. After Professor Dr. Mahbub and Professor Dr. Ridwan was done answering all the questions, the presiding guest Kazi Habibul Awal kept his concluding remarks. He summarized the whole discussion and highlighted the main changes to be brought about by the new law and he expressed his awe on the increase of such judgments by the judiciary, interfering with the work of the executive organ. Dr. Shadheen Malik concluded the symposium by thanking everyone for their participation and for their shared concern in this regard.

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