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7 March, 2019 11:32:08 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 7 March, 2019 11:51:28 AM


The language of the Supreme Court

It is not at all necessary to have always a legal term’s Bangla equivalent while writing a writ petition, or filing a case, or delivering a verdict.
Kazi Mostaque Ahmed
The language of the Supreme Court

The language of Bangladesh Supreme Court ought to be Bangla for some pressing reasons, but despite call from different quarters of society at different times, the court authorities have neglected this need. On the occasion of this year’s Shaheed Dibash (International Mother Language Day also), the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina too urged the court authorities to write verdicts in Bangla, the language of the mass people in this country, a language with which the nation of Bangladesh is emotionally involved as some valiant sons of the soil laid down their lives for protecting the dignity of their mother tongue.
Respecting the sacrifice of martyrs and emotion of people, the High Court of the apex court, on 17 February 2014, issued a rule urging relevant bodies to implement and ensure the use of Bangla language everywhere, including signboards, banners, electronic media advertisements, nameplates, and vehicle number plates, within a three-months period at that time.
The executive branch of the state has long ago started using Bangla as its medium of communication.

In parliament also, debate takes place and laws are passed in Bangla. Based on these laws, the court is now delivering its verdict. But what are the reasons that are preventing the Supreme Court to use Bangla?

For starters, the advocates in favour of using English say that there are not adequate Bangla equivalents of judicial terms in English that have come profusely from Latin and Greek legal traditions. This is true. But it is not at all necessary to have always a Latin term’s Bangla equivalent while writing a writ petition, or filing a case, or delivering a verdict.

The word for ‘tort’ in Bangla can be tort also and those who do not know the meaning of the term will consult a dictionary of legal terms that is written in Bangla also. When an equivalent is not found, the term can be straightforward used in Bangla as it is, with or without a parenthetical explanation of it. If a petition or verdict is written in Bangla, the petition or verdict would be greatly accessible to a Bangladeshi who does not know English. And for their ability to read, write and speak in English, you may get many native English speaking people who may not understand a legal term, unless he studies it as a law student or practitioner.    

Moreover, Islam has a very rich legal tradition and the modern justice system now practiced in Europe and America is greatly influenced by Islamic jurisprudence. ‘Qias’ is a term often used in a Shariah court of law. When writing a petition or verdict, a lawyer or judge may want to use ‘analogical reasoning’; he can straightway use the word ‘qias’ in his petition or verdict that would be intelligible to people of Bangladesh who know the term because of their religious orientation.  

It is here objection may come from many so-called secularists whose understanding of secularism borders on offensiveness against this particular faith. These are the secularists who find anything Islamic forbidden in their secular setting: hijab, beard, topi, mosque and minaret, etc. These are anti-Islamic, not secularists. And their understanding of secularism should not prevent the Supreme Court authorities to use terms of Islamic jurisprudence.

Despite the fact that coinage of the word ‘secularism’ occurred in the west—a British journalist George Jacob Holyoake used the word first in 1851—, the idea of secularism is intrinsically originated in then Al-Andalus (called in the west, the Moorish Spain) in the 11th century in a famous treatise of philosopher Ibn Rishd called Kitab fasl al-maql. In this book, the writer, himself a chief justice of his time, through quoting from Holy Quran profusely, established that study of philosophy is not forbidden, but ordained by divine revelations.

Because of his striking a balance between revelations and man’s rational enquiry, he is regarded as the ‘father of secularism’ in Western Europe. What primarily is understood as secularism—state will not differentiate people according to their religion—is there in Islam in an in-built condition. However, secularism has deviated from its primary goal and now has become, for many, a license for unbridled materialism and unrestrained pleasure, and an active tool against visibility of Islam everywhere in life.

Coming back to the main thrust of the article, use of English in this subcontinent is a colonial legacy and English may be, for many, still the language of the colonial masters. They may feel pride in using English in their daily activities. But knowing English is also practically necessary, not just for the reason that it is the most dominant language of the present globalised economic world order, but also for gathering knowledge as it is the principal medium of transmission of knowledge now. That is why with all our passion for the mother tongue, we have to learn English, and well at that. Up to the secondary level, all students in Bangladesh learn this as a compulsory subject for that.

But as far as reaching the message of justice to mass people is concerned, there is no alternative to using Bangla as the language of the court since even an illiterate person will understand a verdict to a great extent when it is read out to him.

Moreover, since the statute laws are now passed in the parliament in Bangla, lawyers for writing a petition or filing a case in English now often quote from the statue directly in Bangla in their English application for better articulation of their points. Even the judges also deliver verdict in the same manner quoting from the statue in Bangla for the same reason.

Still, for all its limitations Bangla as a language has its own descriptive and argumentative power that can be effectively utilized to run the court activities. We do not believe that those who practice law in the Supreme Court in English, including the judges, use this language because this would give them additional prestige. Even then, if the judges feel difficulty in writing verdicts in Bangla because of their special learnedness, the court can appoint adequate number of translators.

Yes, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was right when she suggested that the Supreme Court now could very positively initiate writing verdicts both in Bangla and English. This would establish the dignity of our mother tongue in the court without altering its present practice.

The writer is an Assistant Editor of  The Independent.

He can be contacted at:




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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