Metropolitan Court

Metropolitan Court a separate magistracy in a divisional headquarter or a metropolitan city of Bangladesh. The constitution, functions, powers and jurisdiction of the court are governed by the criminal procedure code, 1898 (Cr PC). The code initially recognised two types of courts, the courts of sessions and the courts of magistrates. Together they constitute the subordinate judiciary which is subject to the superintendence and control of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court.

With the introduction of the metropolitan police in 1976, the code was amended by an ordinance in 1976 and made effective in 1979. This amended ordinance provided for the establishment of a separate metropolitan magistracy, initially for the city of Dhaka and later for other metropolitan areas like Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi. By virtue of this amendment, Cr PC now recognises basically two types of magisterial courts. First, the courts of metropolitan magistrates and second, the courts of magistrates outside the metropolitan areas.

The amended version of Cr PC empowers the government to appoint, in a metropolitan area, a chief metropolitan magistrate (CMM) and such other magistrates. Provision is also there to appoint one or more additional chief metropolitan magistrates (ACMM). Such ACMMs shall have all or any of the powers of the chief metropolitan magistrates under Cr PC or under any other law for the time being in force, as the government may direct. The Cr PC further authorises the government to confer upon any person all or any of the powers of a metropolitan magistrate under Cr PC in respect of particular cases or class of cases or in regard to cases generally in a metropolitan area or in part thereof. There is also provision for constitution of benches of metropolitan magistrates. Any two or more metropolitan magistrates may, subject to the rules made by the CMM, sit together as a bench.

The local limits of jurisdiction of every metropolitan magistrate extend to all places within a metropolitan area for which he/she is appointed. Similarly, the CMM exercises his/her powers within the local limits of his/her jurisdiction. The CMM is also authorised, with the previous sanction of the government, to make rules consistent with the code to regulate (a) the conduct and distribution of business and the practice in the courts of metropolitan magistrates; (b) the constitution of benches of metropolitan magistrates; (c) the time and place at which such a bench shall sit; (d) the mode of settling differences of opinion which may arise between metropolitan magistrates in session; and (e) any other matter which could be dealt with by a district magistrate under his/her general powers of control over the magistrates subordinate to him.

All metropolitan magistrates including the ACMMs and benches of such magistrates are subordinate to the CMM. The latter may, from time to time, make rules or give special orders consistent with the code as to the distribution of business among such magistrates. The courts of metropolitan magistrates not only try cases involving contravention of the provisions of metropolitan police law, but also those under the penal code. In respect of cases under the Metropolitan Police Act, the court has to take cognizance of the offence only upon a report in writing by a police officer. The powers of the metropolitan magistrates include passing of sentences for a term not exceeding five years, and such solitary confinement as is authorised by law, fine not exceeding taka 10,000 and whipping. The court may also award such term of imprisonment in default of payment of fine as is authorised by law.

Above the magistracy lies the court of session. A court of session is generally called a session division comprising one or more districts. The amendment of the code made in 1976 provided for the establishment of metropolitan court of session. The metropolitan area shall be deemed to be a session division. The amendment of the code contained transitory provisions. It is laid down that until a metropolitan court of session is established under the code, the court of session exercising powers and jurisdiction in relation to the metropolitan area shall continue to exercise its powers and functions. It is also provided that upon the establishment of the metropolitan court of session, all cases and proceedings pending in the court of session exercising powers and jurisdiction in the metropolitan area immediately before such establishment, shall be tried and disposed of by such court of sessions. The objective of such a provision of law was to create no vacuum, and allow smooth and orderly functioning of the judicial process. This was necessary because establishment of new courts usually takes time, and all cases disposed of by the metropolitan magistrates are appealable to the court of session.

Under the code, only the court of session is empowered to try offences of grave and serious nature in which conviction may lead to death penalty or imprisonment exceeding five years or transportation for life. The code, however, empowers the government to invest the chief metropolitan magistrate, the district magistrate or an additional district magistrate with powers to try as a magistrate all offences not punishable with death. Even in case of death penalty imposed in a case by sessions judge, the order passed is subject to confirmation by the High Court Division. Although the amendment of the code providing for the establishment of metropolitan court of session in 1976, made effective in August 1979, no initiative was taken by the government to establish such courts until 1999. It was decided by the government in November 1998 that metropolitan courts of sessions would be established in Dhaka and Chittagong. These courts started functioning in Dhaka and Chittagong in January 1999. In 2008, the process of separation of the judiciary from the executive was completed by law. Consequently, judicial magistrates are appointed in the courts including the Chief Metropolitan Court. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate is designated as the Chief Judicial Magistrate and the other magistrates as judicial magistrates. The hitherto working magistrates of administrative cadre are designated as executive magistrates. They do not now have any judicial power. [AMM Shawkat Ali]