An analysis of the legal framework, the approach and the existing trends of the courts regarding handing out sentences in a country is essential to evaluate and propose reforms to its penal policies. In this regard, Bangladesh Law Digest- BDLD, a student-run law journal of Bangladesh, hosted its 3rd seminar titled ‘Criminal Sentencing in Bangladesh’ on November 29, 2017 at Department of Law, University of Dhaka (DU). Dr. Muhammad Mahbubur Rahman, Associate Professor of Law, DU was the keynote speaker, while Mr. Mohammad Golam Sarwar, Lecturer of Law, DU and Advisor, BDLD moderated the event. Law students from more than 20 universities across Bangladesh participated in the seminar.
At the onset, Mr. Sarwar welcomed everyone and highlighted the aims and objectives as well as the activities of BDLD. While introducing the keynote speaker, he remarked that Dr. Mahbubur Rahman viewed and delivered things differently that allowed the law students and practitioners of Bangladesh to observe issues pertaining to the legal field from multiple dimensions. Afterwards, he invited Dr. Rahman to deliver his lecture.
Dr. Mahbubur Rahman primarily gave a brief outline of his lecture mentioning that the earlier part would deal with the technical aspects of criminal sentencing, while the latter would focus on the practical aspects. He said that punishments handed out by judges should be proportional to the crimes committed by the offenders, consistent with the sentencing policy of the country and that the procedure should be transparent to ensure fairness and justice. However, he lamented over the fact that none of these were ascertained under the existing criminal sentencing practices in Bangladesh due to a wide discretion being provided to the judges.
He then focused on the mitigating and aggravating factors that can affect the quantum of the punishments but remarked that the decisions of our courts portray an inconsistency regarding this practice. Afterwards, Dr. Rahman presented the findings based on his analysis of 838 sentencing judgments of the Supreme Court from 1972 to 2010 and elaborated on them. He underlined the inconsistency of the judiciary in their approach towards sentencing, widespread occurrence of disproportionate punishments being handed out without due consideration to extenuating factors and precedents as well as a lack of normative guideline for imposition of death sentences and remarked that all these led to capital sentencing being a matter of lethal lottery.
On the issue of mandatory death penalty still existing under our penal laws, he propounded that this endangered human lives rather than saving them. Towards the end, Dr. Rahman proposed to bring back the practice of sentencing hearing in our courts and extensive reforms in our sentencing practices including imposition of guidelines for the judges to follow while handing out punishments which would diminish the unguided discretionary power provided to them under the current practice.
The lecture was followed by a short Q&A session. Based on the questions from the Q&A session, Sagor Kar from Department of Criminology, DU was adjudged as the best participant. Tokens of appreciation were presented to the keynote speaker and the moderator of the seminar by the members of BDLD. The seminar ended after a photo session of the participants with the guests.
BDLD started its journey in June 2015 with a view to providing the law practitioners and students of Bangladesh a brilliant platform to dissect, analyze and synthesize various issues pertaining to the legal field. It aims to host more such law seminars on pressing legal issues in future.