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UPDATE: The Legal System of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh
Update by Md. Ershadul Karim
Dr. Md. Ershadul Karim is a Senior Lecture at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a non-practicing lawyer enrolled with Bangladesh Supreme Court.
Published July/August 2018
(Previously updated by Omar Sial & Md. Ershadul Karim in June 2010 ; by Md. Ershadul Karim in April 2013 and in May 2016 )
See the Archive Version!
Table of Contents
2. Location and Geography
4. Constitutional Status of Islamic Law
6. Parliament – the House of the Nation, the Jatiya Sangsad
7. Law Making Process
8. Legal System of Bangladesh
9. Codification of Laws
10. Bangladesh Gazette
11.1. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh
11.2. The Subordinate Courts and Tribunals
11.2.1. Civil Courts
11.2.2. Criminal Courts
12. Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission
13. Law Reports
- 14. Legal Profession in Bangladesh
15. Bangladesh Law Commission
16. Arbitration Law in Bangladesh
17. Intellectual Property Law
18. Legal Education
19. Legal Research
20. Law Libraries
21. Other Related Important Websites
22. Business Guides
Bangladesh is officially known as the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh [ Article 1, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1972 ]. Being a part of ancient Indian subcontinent, the history of Bangladesh is as old as the history of both India until 1947 and Pakistan until 1947. Bangladesh became independent on March 26, 1971 under the name Bangladesh, meaning the country of Bengali nation. Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan on December 16, 1971, when Pakistani troops in East Pakistan surrendered to a joint command of Bangladesh and India. The historic speech containing the Declaration of Independence on March 7, 1971 by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has recently been listed as Documentary heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Though Bangla, the national language in Bangladesh, is the seventh most common language with speakers from some Indian states, the citizens of independent Bangladesh, known as Bangladeshis, are very proud of their Bangla language. When the present Bangladesh was part of Pakistan (East Pakistan), the rulers based in the then-West Pakistan (present Pakistan) declared Urdu as the only state language. Mass people protested the decision and on February 21, 1952, some students sacrificed their lives and hundreds were injured to establish Bangla as the state language. Since then, the day has been being celebrated as ‘Language Martyrs’ Day’. Thus, Bangla is the only language in the world for which people sacrificed their lives. To represent the event, the UNESCO has been observing February 21 every year since 2000 as the International Mother Language Day .
Three sites, i.e. the historic Mosque in the City of Bagerhat, ruins of the Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur and the Sundarbans, largest ever mangrove forest in the world are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list . Five other sites, i.e. Mahansthangarh and its Environs, Lalmai-Mainamati Group of monuments, Lalbagh Fort, Halud Vihara, Jaggadala Vihara are included in the Tentative List developed by the same organization.
Bangladesh is the second largest Islamic state with 151 million of people. The country is now recognized as a model for the world because of its number of achievements nationally and internationally. It is the second largest exporter of the readymade garments in the world after China, the second largest jute producer after India, fourth largest inland freshwater fish producer, with 3.7 million tonnes of vegetables in a year it is third fastest vegetable producer after China and India and eighth largest producer of mango in the world. United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation expected Bangladesh to be the world’s fourth largest rice producer in 2017. The country is becoming a major player in pharmaceutical sector with 20% growth and exports medicines to 100 countries because of patent exemption requirements till 2032. It is the second most favourite country in supplying online workers .
From being the largest least developed country in terms of population and economic size, the country is in the right direction to attain the status of developing country because of her remarkable progress in poverty reduction and human development even with daunting challenges. The country, after successfully meeting several targets of Millennium Development Goals e.g. reduction of poverty gap ratio, attainment of gender parity at primary and secondary education, and reduction of mortality rate of below five years age, etc., has committed to implement the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
The government functions and activities are run by 58 ministries and divisions along with 353 departments. There are four levels in the local government administration and the country is divided into eight divisions and sixty-four districts, 491 upazillas, and 4558 union parishard.
For Bangladesh National Portal, visit here [ Bangla , English ].
Bangladesh lies in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent – which is located in southern Asia. With more than 700 rivers including tributaries, Bangladesh is known as the land of rivers and had some of the most confusing territories on the planet. Bangladesh is almost completely surrounded by India, except for a short frontier with Myanmar in the southeast and a coastline along the Bay of Bengal in the south. Bangladesh, with 95 to 119 enclaves (known as Chitmahals ) inside India, had the second largest numbers of enclaves in the world after India. Until August 1, 2015 when Bangladesh and India formally exchanged 162 enclaves, this situation was portrayed as the ‘ world’s craziest border ’ or ‘ the weirdest border dispute in the world’ .
Read an article on Bangladesh and India enclave exchange at the Migration Policy Institute .
The country consists mainly of the deltaic plains of the Ganges and Brahamaputra rivers and a portion of the hill country bordering Myanmar. The 120km beach in Cox’s Bazar located in the southern part of the country on the Bay of Bengal is the longest unbroken stretch sea beach in the world. Bangladesh has an area of 55, 598 square miles (143, 998 sq. km). It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Dhaka, with a history of more than four hundred years as the capital of the then-Bengal, is the national capital and the largest city.
The Constitution of Bangladesh was adopted on November 4, 1972 and has undergone sixteen amendments to date. Originally the Constitution provided for a parliamentary form of government. However, the Constitution was thoroughly amended by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in 1975 and a Presidential form of government was introduced. Major changes were further introduced in the Constitution by the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth amendments; and the Twelfth amendment to the Constitution brought back the original Parliamentary form of government. However, very recently, the Supreme Court declared the Fifth and Seventh Amendment to the Constitution illegal and as inspired by the order of the Supreme Court, the Parliament of Bangladesh, through the Constitution (Fifteenth Amendment) Act, 2011 (Act XIV of 2011), revised the whole Constitution significantly.
Women’s rights and the principles of gender equality come under the Fundamental Principles of State Policy and are protected by Article 10 i.e. participation of women in national life as well as under Articles 26 to 29 of the Part on Fundamental Rights, affirming equality of all citizens before the law. Rights of minority groups have been protected by Article 41, which reiterates that religions may be practiced in peace and harmony (subject to law, public order and morality).
- Constitution of Bangladesh 1972
- First Handwritten Ornamented Constitution of Bangladesh 1972
- Article on the Constitutional Amendments (up to fifteenth amendment) in Banglapedia , National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh
- Historic judgment on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh
- Historic judgment on the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh
- Historic judgment on the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh
Recently amended Article 2A to the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 provides that the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions. While the Government generally respects this provision in practice, religion exerts a powerful influence on politics, and the Government is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens. Citizens generally are free to practice the religion of their choice; however, police are normally ineffective in upholding law and order and are often slow to assist members of religious minorities who have been victims of crimes. Although the Government states that acts of violence against members of religious minority groups are politically or economically motivated and cannot be solely attributed to religion, human rights activists reported an increase in religiously motivated violence.
The President, while the Head of State ( article 48(2), the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ), holds largely a ceremonial post to appoint the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice ( articles 56 and 95, the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ); the real power is held by the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government. The President is elected by the legislature (Members of Parliament) for 5 years ( Articles 48(1) and 50, the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ). The President's circumscribed powers were substantially expanded during the tenure of a Caretaker Government, which is now repealed by the provisions of the Constitution (Fifteenth Amendment) Act, 2011 (Act XIV of 2011). Under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which the Parliament passed in March 1996, a Caretaker Government assumed power temporarily to oversee general elections after dissolution of the Parliament. In the Caretaker Government, the President had control over the Ministry of Defense, the authority to declare a state of emergency, and the power to dismiss the Chief Adviser and other members of the Caretaker Government. Once national election was held and a new government and Parliament were in place, the President's powers and position revert to their largely ceremonial role.
Read the article on Caretaker Government in Banglapedia , National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh.
Read the Appellate Division Judgement declaring the Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act, 1996 (Act 1 of 1996) void [a large portion of the text is in Bangla].
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President ( Articles 48 (3) and 56(3), the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ). The Prime Minister must be a Member of Parliament (MP) whom the President feels has the confidence of the majority of other MPs ( Article 56 (3), the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ). The Cabinet is composed of Ministers selected by the Prime Minister and appointed by the President. At least 90% of the Ministers must be MPs. The other 10% may be non-MP experts, or "technocrats", who are not otherwise disqualified from being elected MPs. According to the Constitution, the president can dissolve the Parliament upon the written request of the Prime Minister ( Article 57 (2), the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ).
Find more information about the President of Bangladesh . Find more information about the Prime Minister’s Office .
The legislature is a unicameral, 300-seat body. All its members are elected by universal suffrage at least every five years. Parliament amended the Constitution in 2011, making a provision for adding 50 seats reserved for women and to be distributed among political parties in proportion to their numerical strength in Parliament ( Article 65(3), the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ).
All citizens of Bangladesh of and above the age of 18 and of sound mind, resident of a constituency and not convicted of any offence under the Bangladesh Collaborates (Special Tribunal) Order, 1972 , who have registered themselves as voters ( Article 122, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ), form the electorate. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament on the basis of direct election. All citizens of Bangladesh who have attained the age of 25 is qualified to be elected in the Parliament. Those disqualified include the insane, un-discharged bankrupts, persons who on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude who have been sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years unless five years have elapsed since their release, persons owing allegiance to a foreign state, and persons holding an office of profit in the service of the Republic ( Article 66 (2), the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ).
A general election for a new Parliament takes place on the same day in all constituencies. Depending on the size of a constituency and its total number of voters, a number of polling centres are set up with arrangements for voters to exercise their franchise freely, peacefully and in secrecy. Polling officials in each centre - in the presence of candidates or their nominees - count votes. The result is sent to the Returning Officer in sealed covers together with ballot papers. The Returning Officer, generally the Deputy Commissioner of the district, communicates the result of each constituency to the Election Commission after he has compiled the results in the presence of the candidates or their authorised representatives. Unofficial results start being announced in various media from the evening of the Election Day. The Election Commission declares the result of the general election formally a few days later through the publication of the names of winning candidates in the official Bangladesh Gazette. Members-elect are administered an oath of office by the outgoing Speaker.
The Parliament of Bangladesh runs its business according to the Rules of Procedure . The Rules of Procedure contains detailed provisions as to Summoning, Prorogation and Dissolution of Parliament and Seating, Oath and Roll of Members, Election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker and nomination of a Panel of Chairmen, Powers and functions of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, Sittings of the House, Arrangement of Business and Orders of the Day, President's Address and Messages to and from the House, Questions and Short Notice Questions, Motion for adjournment on a matter of public importance, Discussion on matters of urgent public importance for short duration, Calling attention to matters of urgent public importance, Legislation, Amendment of the Constitution, Petitions, Procedure in Financial Matters, and all other issues necessary in order to run the business of the Parliament.
For more detail on the Parliament of Bangladesh, visit the Parliament’s website .
For more details on the Election Commission of Bangladesh (in Bangla), visit the Commission’s website .
For more detail on election related important laws (in Bangla), visit the Bangladesh Election Commission website.
Article 80 of the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 provides that every proposal in the Parliament for making a law shall be made in the form of a Bill and When a Bill is passed by the Parliament it shall be presented to the President for assent. The Parliament can make any law which is not inconsistent with the Constitution since any law inconsistent with the Constitution, to the extent of inconsistency, is void ( Article 7(2), the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ).
See the Legislative Process in Bangladesh Parliament . Read the Bangladesh Secretariat Instructions , 2014 [in Bangla].
As a English common law country, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has the power not only to interpret the Constitution ( articles 103(2) (a) and 110, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ) and the laws made by the Parliament, but it can also declare them null and void when they are found inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Constitution and enforce fundamental rights of the citizens ( articles 7 (2) and 44, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ). Although founded on the English common law system, the laws of Bangladesh take a statutory form, which are enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the Supreme Court.
The word ‘law’ is defined in Article 152 of the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 . It says that “law” means any Act, ordinance, order, rule, regulation, byelaw, notification or other legal instrument, and any custom or usage, having the force of law in Bangladesh. Under this definition, the Act of Parliament, the Ordinance and President’s Orders are treated as primary legislation, whereas rules and regulations are considered as secondary legislation. It may be relevant to mention here that seven Regulations which were enacted during the British time by the Governor-General in Council by virtue of the Regulating Act, 1773 were considered as primary legislation and were included in the Bangladesh Code. Bangladesh Law Commission commissioned studies and published two reports, report no. 109 and 116 , regarding the historical background and status of these Regulations.
Besides, article 111 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 provides that the law declared by the Appellate Division shall be binding on the High Court Division and the law declared by either division of the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts subordinate to it. Therefore, the statutory laws, secondary legislation and judgment laws or precedent along with customs and usage all form the sources of law in Bangladesh.
There are strong legal obligations for the codification, translation and publication of existing Bangladeshi laws. Section 6 of the Bangladesh Laws (Revision and Declaration) Act, 1973 (Act no. VIII of 1973) , provides that, "all Acts of Parliament, Ordinances and President's Order in force in Bangladesh shall be printed in chronological order under the name and style of Bangladesh Code."
The emergence of Bangladesh as an independent, sovereign country called for necessary amendments, adaptations and the repeal of certain laws as well as the enactment of new laws and translation of laws into Bangla version to meet the changed and changing political, social and economic needs of the new country. Commensurate with this requirement, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs started examining the existing laws for adaptation, codification and publication for said purposes. Accordingly, Bangladesh Code, Volumes I-XI were published containing the laws enacted between 1836 to 1938. But due to the lack of proper leadership, manpower, and sound organizational support, the process had proceeded no further. As a result, laws enacted after 1938 were kept scattered and unattended to, which used to create unbearable suffering to all people having interest in Bangladesh laws including lawyers, judges, students of laws, journalist and so on. Fortunately, during the political government led by BNP (2001-2007), with the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs started the codification of Bangladesh Code , which saw the light of the day during the Caretaker Government led by Dr. Fokruddin Ahmed. This is undoubtedly a milestone in the legal history of Bangladesh. The oldest and the shortest (with only one section and without any preamble or long title) law as applicable in Bangladesh is the Districts Act, 1836 . However, as of today, no effective steps have been taken to compile the existing rules, regulations, by-laws, notifications, statutory orders, etc. in a single place like the Bangladesh Code.
Pertinent to mention here that though Bangla is the State language of Bangladesh (article 3, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972), even after the independence in 1971 till 1987 all laws were enacted in English and hence most of the educated people who are non-familiar with the technical legal terms remain ignorant of the provisions of law, let alone the position of illiterate people. In 1987, by the enactment of the Bangla Bhasha Procholon Ain, 1987 (Act No. 2 of 1987) [The Introduction of Bangla Language Act, 1987], it was provided that, from now on, all laws shall be enacted in Bangla. As a result, from then on, all laws have been enacted in Bangla with some exceptions where English authoritative translations of few laws are also made by the Drafting Wing of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. The list of some of these laws includes, inter alia , the Trade Mark Act, 2009, the Right to Information Act, 2009, the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012, etc. Similarly, some of the laws which were originally enacted in English were subsequently translated in Bangla. The list of some of these laws includes, the Mines Act, 1923, the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1980, etc. Later on, the Government, with the help of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has started, under its Access to Justice Project, the translation of the laws in Bangladesh Code. Once this Project is successfully completed all laws of the land shall be bi-lingual and can be available in both Bangla and English.
For more details, see, the Bangladesh Code .
Bangladesh Government Press widely known as BG Press is the lying-in house of Government Publications and for classified materials like Reports, Budget, Bills, Acts, Ordinances, Rules, Regulations, Statutory Orders, Resolutions, leaflets, Posters, etc. Synchronizing with the geo-political change and rearrangements those came on the map of this area BG Press has got its present infrastructure, manpower, technology back-up and product range. A good number of Presses established in different parts of British India including the East Bengal Government Press at Alipur, Calcutta (now Kolkata). During the partition of British India as an independent Government print-house of State it was temporarily shifted in the previous Central Jail, (Nazimuddin Road), Dhaka. It came in operation by 1948 with a few mounds of lead type-metal and two worm-out printing machines. Then in 1953 it was again shifted and permanently established at the present venue. By the year 1956 it was introduced as East Pakistan Government Press (EPGP) and then the manpower strength was 1400. After the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country in 1971, the EPGP was renamed as Bangladesh Government Press (BG Press).
Details can be found at BG Press .
The Heidelberg Bangladesh Law Translation Project : This site contains the English translation of laws enacted in Bangla between 1985-1995. Although, the effort made should be welcomed, the translation of laws under this Project should not be considered as a proper legal translation, rather from the reading of the laws it appears that the translation of laws were either generated using computer software or done by people without sufficient knowledge on legal translation and legal drafting.
11. Judicial System
The Judiciary of Bangladesh consists of a Supreme Court, Subordinate Courts and Tribunals established under the provisions of different statutes.
The Supreme Court of Bangladesh is comprised of the Appellate Division and the High Court Division. It is the apex Court of the country; other Courts and Tribunals are subordinate to it. The Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution and other laws of the land and it is the guardian of the Constitution. The Constitution provides for detailed provisions as to the appointment, tenure, powers and functions of the judges of the Supreme Court.
The Appellate Division, the highest Court of Appeal, has the jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from judgments, decrees, orders or sentences of the High Court Division, review its own judgments and orders. It has rule making power for regulating the practice and procedure of each Division and of any Court subordinate to it ( Article 103, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ). Under article 106 of the Constitution, 1972 , the Appellate Division, with the request of the President, has the power to give its opinion on a serious question of law having public importance.
The High Court Division has both appellate as well as original jurisdiction. It hears appeals from orders, decrees, and judgments of subordinate Courts and Tribunals. It has original jurisdiction to enforce the fundamental rights of the citizens upon Writ Applications under articles 44 and 102 of the Constitution . It has further original jurisdiction, inter alia , in respect to company and admiralty matters arising out of various statutes. The High Court Division, in special circumstances, also has powers and jurisdiction to hear and dispose of cases under article 110 of the Constitution and has control over all Courts and Tribunals subordinate to it. The Supreme Court is also a Court of Record and can try contempt cases ( article 108, the Constitution of Bangladesh, 1972 ). Visit the Supreme Court website for more information.
Find more details on History of Supreme Court of Bangladesh . Read more on the Rules of the Supreme Court .
There is a wide variety of subordinate Courts and tribunals created by various statutes. The powers, functions and jurisdictions of these Courts and tribunals are also determined by respective statutes. The major bulk of the cases, both Civil and Criminal, are tried and heard in such Courts and tribunals. Apart from civil and criminal courts, there are also administrative tribunals.
For more information, visit the website of Subordinate Courts of Bangladesh (in Bangla), here .
The Civil Courts are created under the Civil Courts Act of 1887 (Act XII of 1887). According to section 3 of the Civil Courts Act, 1887 , there are following classes of Civil Courts, namely:
- Court of the District Judge;
- Court of the Additional District Judge;
- Court of the Joint District Judge;
- Court of the Senior Assistant Judge; and
- Court of the Assistant Judge.
The three latter Courts are of first instance with powers, functions and jurisdictions in respect to subject matter, territory and pecuniary value determined by or under statutes. The remaining two are generally subordinate courts of Appeal in Civil matters. However, the Court of District Judge functions, to very limited extent, as a Court of first instance.
The criminal court within the subordinate judiciary are established under section 6 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (V of 1898) , which stipulates that there shall be the following categories of criminal courts:
- Courts of Sessions; and
- Courts of Magistrates.
Section 6 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 , further says that there shall be two classes of Magistrate, namely:
- Judicial Magistrate, and
- Executive Magistrate.
The Judicial Magistrates are classified into four categories, namely:
- Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Metropolitan Area and Chief judicial Magistrate to other areas;
- Magistrate of the first class, who shall in Metropolitan Area, be known as Metropolitan Magistrate;
- Magistrate of the second class; and
- Magistrate of the third class.
Pertinent to mention here that the word “Chief Metropolitan Magistrate" and "Chief judicial Magistrate" shall include "Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate" and "Additional Chief judicial Magistrate" respectively.
Among Executive Magistrates, there appear two Magistrates who are to be appointed by the Government as:
- District Magistrate,
- Additional District Magistrate.
Beside these criminal courts, the Government can appoint a person to work as a Special Magistrate to deal with cases situate generally in any local area outside a Metropolitan area. ( Section 12 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 ).
For details on the jurisdiction of various courts, please the Judicial Portal .
There are many other specialized courts and tribunals, which are established under the provisions of different statutes. For example, Environment Courts are established under the Environment Court Act, 2010 , Acid Crime Tribunals are established under the Acid Crime Control Act, 2002 , Labour courts are established under the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 , Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Tribunals established under the Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain, 2000 , and village courts to be established under the Village Court Act, 2006 , etc.
There is a Judicial Service Commission, officially known as the Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission (BJSC), was structured under the provisions of the Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission Rules, 2007. The BJSC is primarily responsible to assess the suitability of persons for appointments at the entry level of the Bangladesh Judicial Service and to conduct periodical examinations for probationer Assistant Judges/Judicial Magistrates.
For more information on the Bangladesh Judicial Service Commission, please visit their website .
The Judicial Administration Training Institute (JATI) was created by the Judicial Administration Training Institute Act, 1995, which provides for the establishment of a training institute, a statutory public authority in nature, to work as focal point for training of members of judicial service and certain other professional connected with the judicial system.
For more information on the Judicial Administration Training Institute (JATI), please visit their website .
Being a common law country, the Constitution of Bangladesh provides that the law declared by the Appellate Division shall be binding on the High Court Division and the law declared by either division of the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts subordinate to it ( Article 111 of the Bangladesh Constitution, 1972 ). The Supreme Court declares the law by way of judgment, order and decisions, etc. These judgments, order and decisions are reported in different law reports. Therefore, these law reports play an important role in the study of law, legal research, and legal practices, etc.
In Bangladesh, the law reports are published according to the provisions of the Law Reports Act, 1875 . There are at least seven printed law reports now in Bangladesh, the most popular one is the Dhaka Law Reports (popularly known as DLR) which started its publication in 1948. Bangladesh Legal Decisions (BLD) is published under the authority of the Bangladesh Bar Council. The other law reports are Bangladesh Law Chronicles (BLC), Law Guardian (LG), the Lawyers (Appellate Division Cases/ ADC), Bangladesh Law Times (BLT), and the Mainstream Law Reports (MLR). Even after the establishment of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in 1972, a law report was published for a few years under its supervision. But that did not continue for long. These Law Reports basically contain the judgments, orders and decisions of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh with some legal articles and statutes. It should be noted that some of the judgments delivered by the Appellate Division and High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh are available in the website of the Supreme Court.
Some Judgements delivered by the Appellate Division can be found on their website .
Some Judgements delivered by the High Court Division can be found on their website .
Supreme Court Online Bulletin (SCOB) is an online law report published by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh compiling important judgments from the Appellate Division and High Court Division.
From 2008, Chancery Research and Consultants Trust (CRC-Trust), a socio-legal consulting group has been maintaining the first Bangladesh Online Case Law Database, the Chancery Law Chronicles in its website . Exciting features of the website include judgments of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, legal dictionary (both judicial and legislative), glossary, explanation of Latin terms and phrases, abbreviations, directory of various categories of government organizations, Law Journal, blog, delegated legislation, newly enacted Laws, policies of the Government of Bangladesh, various official and legal forms, etc.
14. Legal Profession in Bangladesh:
Bangladesh Bar Council, a statutory autonomous body constituted under the Bangladesh Legal Practitioners and Bar Council Order, 1972 (President’s Order No. 46 of 1972) is the central body to regulate different activities of legal profession including enrolment, professional misconduct etc. The Council is headed by the Attorney-General of Bangladesh and run by a Committee of fifteen members.
For details, please visit the Bangladesh Bar Council’s website .
After passing out successfully in the enrolment examination conducted by the Bangladesh Bar Council, a candidate shall be known as advocate but needs to enroll himself/herself in one of the District Bar Associations of his choice to practice as a lawyer. There is a District Bar Association in every administrative district of the country. An association of lawyers in the Supreme Court is known as Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association .
The Attorney General of Bangladesh and other members from his team (Additional Attorney Generals, Deputy Attorney Generals and Assistant Attorney Generals), as appointed under the Bangladesh Law Officers Order, 1972 represent the government in the Supreme Court. The office of Public Prosecutor and Government Pleaders represent the government in the subordinate courts. The Solicitor’s Office takes care of and monitors litigations by or against the government in different courts of the country including Supreme Court.
The law of the land in a dynamic society requires that it be constantly reviewed by an authority, which is manned by persons possessing an adequate and thorough knowledge of law and the society in which it operates. Reflecting this, different countries at different times felt the need to establish a law reform agency; Law Commissions have been set up to fulfill this need. In 1996, by the enactment of the Law Commission Act , the Law Commission in Bangladesh started its journey.
For more information, visit the Law Commission of Bangladesh, visit the Law Commission of Bangladesh’s website . Access Bangladesh Law Commission reports .
Bangladesh has repealed both the Arbitration (Protocol and Convention) Act of 1937 and the Arbitration Act of 1940, and has enacted a new arbitration law, " The Arbitration Act, 2001 ". The Act is principally based on the UNCITRAL Model Law in International Commercial Arbitration (1985). The new arbitration law consolidates the domestic and international arbitration regime in Bangladesh.
The Act provides that an arbitral tribunal may rule on its own jurisdiction, unless otherwise agreed by the parties in terms of the following questions: (a) whether there is a valid arbitration agreement; (b) whether the arbitral tribunal is properly constituted; (c) whether the arbitration agreement is against public policy; (d) whether the arbitration agreement is capable of being performed, and (e) what matters have been submitted to arbitration in accordance with the arbitration agreement.
Chapter VI of the Arbitration Act, 2001, entitled "Conduct of the Proceedings," provides in Article 24 that the arbitral tribunal shall not be bound by the Code of Civil Procedure and the Evidence Act of Bangladesh, and that the arbitral tribunal shall follow the procedure to be agreed on by the parties. In terms of setting aside arbitration awards, Chapter VIII of the Act, entitled "Recourse against arbitral awards" is similar to Chapter VII, Article 34 of the UNCITRAL Model Rules. It also provides that Bangladesh courts may set aside awards if they are satisfied that (i) the subject matter of the dispute is not capable of settlement by the arbitration under the law for the time being in force in Bangladesh; (ii) if the arbitral award is prima facie opposed to the law for the time being in force in Bangladesh; (iii) the arbitral award is in conflict with the public policy of Bangladesh or (iv) the arbitral award is induced or affected by fraud or corruption.
The Bangladesh International Arbitration Centre, the first international arbitration institution of the country, is registered as a not-for-profit organization and commenced operations in April 2011 under a license from the Government and with the sponsorship of three prominent business Chambers of Bangladesh, namely, International Chamber of Commerce-Bangladesh (ICC-B), Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) and Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MCCI), Dhaka.
For more about the Bangladesh International Arbitration Centre, visit here.
Read the Report of the Law Commission of Bangladesh on the Arbitration Act, 2001, here .
By integrating former "Patent Office" and "Trademarks Registry Office" t he Department of Patents, Designs & Trademarks (DPDT) was created in 2003 under the Ministry of Industries of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to protect industrial property. Relevant laws are:
- The Patents and Designs Act 1911
- The Patents and Designs Rules, 1933
- The Trademarks Act, 2009 [amended in 2015] [ English version ].
- The Trademark Rules, 2015 [in Bangla]
- The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 2013 [ English version ]
- The Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2015 [in Bangla]
Patent-related relevant forms are available. The law being so old, the Law Commission of Bangladesh submitted a Report to update the Law in 2001. Unfortunately, nothing has happened so far.
- Design-related relevant forms are available.
- Trademark-related relevant forms are available.
- Geographical Indication-relevant forms are available.
The Copyright Office of Bangladesh is an affiliated body under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. hRelevant laws and application processes are available. Copyright registration flowchart is available [in Bangla].
At present, a good number of public universities in Bangladesh offer law degrees at both undergraduate and graduate levels. The list of these public universities include: University of Dhaka, University of Rajshahi, University of Chittagong, Islamic University, Kushtia, Jagannath University, Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka and National University, Gazipur. All public universities except National University offer 4-year LLB (Hons.) Degree at the undergraduate level. National University offers 2-year LLB (Pass) Degree at graduate level through its different affiliated private law colleges (around 70) all over Bangladesh.
In the graduate level, 1-year Master program, i.e. LLM, both general and specialized, is being offered by all the public universities except Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka that has very recently opened Department of Law & Justice under the Faculty of Law. Evening LLM Program (1 year and 2 years) is being offered by the only public university in Bangladesh i.e. University of Rajshahi.
Besides, around 30 private universities offer 4 years LL.B. (Hons) and 1 or 2 years LL.M. program.
The following website(s) on Bangladeshi Laws may be of help to a legal researcher:
- Chancery Law Chronicles : Comprehensive, searchable database of Bangladesh Laws and more than 8000 Judgments of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh as available now in the website. It reports judgments of the Appellate and High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, legal dictionary (both judicial and legislative), delegated legislation, newly enacted Laws, policies of the Government of Bangladesh, various official and legal forms, etc.
- Asian LII : Provides sources of information on Bangladesh courts, case law, government, indigenous law, infrastructure, ADR, etc.
- Bangladesh Journal of Law : Published by Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA).
- Library of Congress entry on Bangladesh Laws .
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Bangladesh Journal of Legal Studies
Admissibility of Digital Evidence in Bangladesh
October 30, 2021 by Khandker Saadat Tanbir 1 Comment
From British colonial period to the present age of digitalization, Bangladesh has come a long way. Gradually, its legal system adopted necessary measures conforming to the changing necessity of laws and lifestyle of people. Nevertheless, there are quite a few provisions that still need to equip themselves properly in order to be applicable in appropriate cases. One of the notable instances is Section 3 of the Evidence Act, 1872 (Act No. I of 1872). Despite being a parent law regarding the substantive and procedural regulation of evidence in our country, this Act has still not recognized digital records as evidences. That is why the scope and applicability of its provisions are often limited and cannot be used as an efficient tool for ensuring justice. After intense scrutiny, we have found some scopes using which digital evidence in Bangladesh can be produced under the Evidence Act, 1872.
Digital Evidence in Bangladesh under the Evidence Act 1872:
According to Black’s Law dictionary, the term ‘digital’ refers to data represented in binary code  . ‘Evidence’ generally means any information, data or document which can be produced before the Court in a trial to prove or disprove a particular contention.
Digital records are not recognized as evidence under the Evidence Act. The Evidence Act was enacted in 1872 was imported into our land through the laws Continuance Enforcement Order, 1971. Since then, it has been operating as the principal law regulating evidence in different cases. According to the provision of the Act  , “Evidence” means and includes-
(a) All statements which the Court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses or oral evidence;
(b) All documents produced for the inspection of the Court or documentary evidence.
Evidence is either oral evidence or documentary evidence. But the term does not explicitly include any electronic/digital data or record as evidence.
There have been allegations that the main reason as to why digital evidence has not been included under the Act is this kind of evidence are easily alterable. They are often not authentic and it is extremely hard for a developing country like Bangladesh to prove their authenticity beyond reasonable doubt. Another contention is our Police force is not qualified and well-equipped to collect, record, produce and corroborate these evidences properly. So, their admissibility is not encouraged under this Act.
However, these are nothing but mere excuses and fallacies. Under several legislation of the same country, digital records are admissible as evidences and are being produced in trials at a large scale. The same Police are collecting, preserving and producing the evidence based on which suits are being disposed of. So, these excuses do not stand a chance on ill-equipment ground. Moreover, the Evidence Act has made expert opinion admissible under Section 45. So, corroborating and proving the merit of a digital evidence beyond reasonable ground is not a challenge under this Act.
The main reason of this exclusion is the lack of intention of our legislatives. When the Act was drafted and came into force, there was no concept of digital documents in our sub-continent or other parts of the world. So naturally the definition of documents would not include digital records at that time. But at this modern age, admissibility of digital evidence is a crying need for insurance of justice and inclusion of such is a must. While we can include and produce digital evidence under other laws, there can be no satisfactory ground existing to support the continuity of such exclusion.
Scope of Producing Digital Evidence under the Evidence Act, 1872:
As digital/electronic evidence has not been explicitly included within the meaning of ‘document’ and hence, producing of digital evidence under the Evidence Act, 1872 seems to be quite a challenge for us. Nevertheless, there are still a few scopes using which we can produce such before the Court.
- Through broad interpretation of Document:
Firstly, the term ‘Document’ has been defined in section 3 of the Act-
“Document” means any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks, or by more than one, intended to be used or which may be used, for the purpose of recording the matter.”
So, the undefined term ‘substance’ can include electronic device and in this section digital evidence can be introduced subject to judicial interpretation of the Court.
In the General Clauses Act 1897, “Document” has been defined with the same words.  Besides, in the Penal Code, 1860, document has been defined which is similar to what the Evidence Act says.  Nevertheless, there are illustrations added to the said definition in the Penal Code. Explanation 1 says that it is immaterial by what means or upon what substance the matter, letters, figures or marks are formed or the evidence is intended for or may be used in a Court or not.
- Produced as material thing other than document:
Secondly, according to the provision of the Evidence Act, evidence signifies the only instrument by means of which relevant facts are brought before the Court. But the Act only recognizes two categories (oral and document). Under section 60 of the Act, the Court may require another one for its inspection. In chapter IV of the Act, the last paragraph of Section 60 reads-
“Provided also that, if oral evidence refers to existence or condition of any material thing other than a document, the Court may, if it thinks fit, require the production of such material thing for its inspection.”
So, such material is not evidence. However, the definition of evidence in the Act in section 3 is inclusive, that is, not rigid. The definition of evidence must be read with that of ‘proved’. The combined result of these two definitions is that ‘evidence’ as defined by the Act is not the only medium of proof and that in addition to it there are a number of other ‘matters’ which the Court has to take into consideration.  Thus, the definition of ‘evidence’ is narrow and there is a scope that it can be interpreted to include digital evidence, since the word ‘matter’ is a term of widest amplitude. For example-data is stored in the remote server and it is physically inaccessible.
It can be articulated that digital evidence is an amplification of matter expressed or described upon digital substances by means of letters, figures or marks and inclusive of material and secondary evidence.  It verbalizes that the other forms of digitalization have the same legal entity. If any question as to the authentication and tampering of digital evidence arises, the law prescribes gateway to remove any sort of doubt. Expert opinion rule under section 45 of the Evidence Act provides the scope to seek expert opinion of science etc. as the experts are free to take help from the technology and the forensic experts often relies on the digital equipment to make their decision regarding any matter. In addition, the search and examination rule of section 165 and 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure empower the investigating officer to attach anything and examine its maker.  This procedure may be followed to cross-examine the makers of the documentary evidence. Given these circumstances, there are scopes of digital evidence to be included.
- Through precedential development:
Thirdly, we would like to draw our attention to the development of the precedent. In the case of Khaleda Akhter vs State , the point for consideration was whether a video cassette is a ‘document’ within the meaning of the Evidence Act. The author judge of the very case, namely A.T.M. Afzal J stated –
“A video cassette is a document within the meaning of the Evidence Act and is accordingly admissible in course of a trial or proceeding” 
He further explained –
“The word ‘matter’ occurring in the definition of ‘document’ is a term of widest amplitude. The ordinary meaning of the word matter Is anything that which has mass and occupies space, that is to say, physical substance in general, as opposed to spirit, mind etc. if for the purpose of showing it on television on application of technology a video cassette or tape is made, we don’t see any reason why the same should not or could not come within the definition of ‘document.” 
Before the judgment of Khaleda Akhter case, digital evidence (i.e., Video cassettes) were not recognized as evidence. But after this landmark judgment, a new principle in terms of digital evidence has been introduced. Being the judgment of the apex Court of the country, it will have binding force and the upcoming cases have to follow the principle of ‘stare decisis’.
In several cases, the Court has taken digital evidence into account. For example, in Rajon Murder Case,  Biswajit Murder case,  Nusrat Murder case,  the Court has acknowledged the relevancy and admissibility of digital evidence. There are many cases right now to be decided where digital evidence can play a key role to ensure justice. For example, Abrar Murder case, Rifat Murder Case etc.
- Including digital evidence through amendment:
Lastly, the most convenient way to make digital evidence admissible is by making an amendment. In India, they had the same Evidence Act as we do. But they have amended the law from time to time considering the ever-changing necessity of the society. Section 3(2)(e)(2) of the Act includes electronic evidence within the meaning of documentary evidence stating –
“All documents including electronic records produced for the inspection of the Court such documents are called documentary evidence.”
Section 65B of the Act makes the electronic evidences admissible before the Court. In several cases,  digital evidences were admitted by the Court and eventually played a significant role in shaping the verdict. If we amend the provision of our Act and include digital records within the purview of document, it would create a substantial scope for producing such evidence.
After considering all the available scopes, we finally submit that digital records must be included under the Evidence Act, 1872 as evidence and be allowed to be admissible before the Court. Considering the geo-political similarities of us with India, we have relied on their laws, policies and judgment so many times due to their great persuasive value. Following that trend, we should amend the provision of section 3 including digital records within the purview of documents. This will help to eradicate all the hesitations of our judiciary to utilize and rely on digital evidences and will eventually work as a more convenient tool for ends of justice. This is the legislators who holds the authority to do so and are recommended to take the effective measures as soon as possible. When the national and public life circulates around digitalized system, contending that digital records do not qualify as evidence is nothing but an excuse. Now it is high time we made it admissible under the Evidence Act and give it a broader scope to be applied.
 Computer Forensics: Digital Evidence < https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/category/computerforensics/introduction/areas-of-study/legal-and-ethicalprinciples/digital-evidence/#gref >
 The Evidence Act 1872, s 3.
 The General Clauses Act 1897, s 3(16)
 The Penal Code 1860, s 29
 M. Monir, Law of Evidence. page 48
 Rajib Kumar Deb, ‘Admissibility of digital evidence’ The Daily Star (Law Letter, 27th August 2019) < https://www.thedailystar.net/law-our-rights/news/admissibility-digital-evidence-1790917 .>
 Mrs. Khaleda Akhter vs The State 37 DLR (1985) (HCD) 275
 Rajon Murder Case, The Daily Star (November 26 2019) www.thedailystar.net/tags/rajon-murder-case
 High Court Verdict on Biswajit Murder Case, The Daily Star (July 17 2017) www.thedailystar.net/politics/bangladesh-high-court-verdict-biswajit-murder-case6-1434460%3famp
 Nusrat Murder: Ex-madrasa principal, 15 others get death The Daily Star (October 24, 2019)
 Babu Kha vs The State of Madhya Pradesh (2019) CRR No.1152/2019; Dorling Kindersley (India) Pvt. vs Sanguine Technical Publishers (2013) O.M.P. 856/2012 & I.A No. No.4567/2013; Criminal Appeal (SJ) No.181 of 2015; Mohammad Akbar vs Ashok Sahu and Ors (2016) EP No. 4 of 2014.
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- Admissibility of Digital Evidence in Bangladesh - October 30, 2021
April 24, 2022 at 3:46 pm
Vai,Tanvir vai, Excellent Write up. It is much more helpful to understand the digital evidence and also its admissibility
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Research Monograph On Topics: Human Rights in Bangladesh Submitted to: Submitted By
The word human evolved from Latin word humans which mean any view in which interest of human welfare is central.
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Alberto L. Siani
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Anthony J Langlois
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50 Research Topics For Law Students In August 2022: Read Now!
If you are a law student and love research, here’s our flagship article. Our team has meticulously prepared a list of 50 top contemporary topics for research in August 2022 across a number of legal subjects . Happy Researching!
Military law 1. Military Law v. Martial Law: A Comparative Study. 2. Authorities under Military Law in India. 3. Punishments under Military Law v. Civil Law: A Comparative Study. 4. Evolution of Military Law in India. Admiralty (Maritime) Law 1. Local laws v. Maritime Law: Which shall prevail? 2. Suez Canal crisis: What it cost the world? 3. 10 Things to Know Before Becoming A Maritime Lawyer 4. Enforcement of Maritime Law: A Critical Analysis 5. Relevance of South China Sea Globally. Bankruptcy Law 1. Efficiency of Fast track Resolution Process in India. 2. Authorities governing Insolvency and Bankruptcy in India: An Analysis 3. Cross-Border Insolvency in India. 4. Evolution of insolvency and bankruptcy laws in India: Landmark Judgments Business (Corporate) Law 1. Corporate Law Journals to Publish Your Research Paper. 2. Effective corporate governance laws: A Review 3. Top Research Journals for Corporate Law in India.
Civil Rights Law 1. Beef in India: A Study into Religious aspect 2. Drug abuse in India: A Critical analysis of Sushant Singh Rajput case. 3. Females of Islam: A Study 4. A critical analysis of Niqah Halala in Islam. 5. Maintenance to wives, children and parents in India: A Study through Landmark cases. Criminal law 1. Constitutional perspective of Criminal Procedure Code. 2. A critical Analysis of Plea bargaining Procedure. 3. Sex work in India: Morality v. Legality 4. Appeal, Review, Revision of Cases in India. 5. Rationale behind Death Penalty in India: A Critical Analysis. Entertainment law 1. Entertainment Law in India: A Jurisprudential Study. 2. An Introduction to Entertainment Law: A Basic Study. 3. Regulation of Pornography in OTT Platforms. 4. Royalties of Artistic Works in India: A Study 5. Regulations on Piracy and Pirated Works. Environment law 1. Indian environmental law for the sustainability of the resources and management: A critical assessment. 2. Politics v. Environment Law: A Study. 3. Important International Treaties on Climate Change. 4. Kyoto Protocol: Landmark Treaty on Climate Change.
Health law 1. Analysis of Insanity in Law. 2. Regulation of Donation of Organs in India and Globally. 3. Jurisprudence of Health law. 4. Right to Die: Law and Legislation. 5. Law and Biotechnology. Sports law 1. Sports Industry Law and Regulation: A Need of the Hour. 2. Relevance of sports law in India. 3. India’s Draft National Air Sports Policy 2022: A brief analysis. 4. Sports law and its aspect of Intellectual Property Rights. 5. Analysing the future of Sports Law in India. Moneylaundering law 1. Analysing India’s money laundering and anti-money laundering (AML) laws and regulations. 2. Hasan Ali Khan v Union of India: Case Analysis. 3. Analysing the legal issues in JKCA money laundering case. 4. Vijay Madanlal Choudhary & Ors. v. Union of India: Case Analysis. 5. The powers of the Directorate of Enforcement in Anti-Money Laundering cases.
YLCC would like to thank Akhila Sawan for her valuable contribution in this publication.
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College of Law
Leadership in Legal Writing
In 1989, Nancy Jones founded the Writing Center at Iowa Law. It was the first writing resource center in the country to be housed in a law school and devoted exclusively to the law school community. Jones, an influential figure in legal writing support and education, led the center for more than 30 years before retiring in 2020.
Following Jones’ retirement, Dawn Anderson (95JD, 18EdS), a longtime Legal Analysis, Writing & Research (LAWR) professor, assumed leadership. The center continues to build on its rich history as it grows to fit the needs of today’s law students.
As Anderson stepped into a leadership role at the center, she and others examined how to increase collaboration between LAWR professors and the writing center. The outcome was the hire of two new LAWR professors, expanding the dedicated writing faculty to six. The center also changed its name to the Writing and Academic Success Center to reflect its expansion and added resources.
“We realized there was a synergy between writing and academic success. In fact, writing is simply a subset of the academic skills students need to succeed. Hence, the Writing and Academic Success Center was born,” said Anderson.
The center is a centralized hub for student support. It offers one-on-one consultations with writing specialists, feedback on written work, and workshops designed to address specific writing and academic challenges that many law students face.
Recent enhancements include extended office hours, a balanced blend of online and in-person appointments, and a new Tuesday Talk About It series covering all topics related to academic success from critical reading strategies to exam prep. It also has a series of Legal Writing Shorts: bite-sized presentations on legal writing topics like organizing legal writing, presenting analysis effectively, and writing concisely. The center has also expanded the number of tutors from two to eleven, ensuring adequate assistance during peak semester periods.
In addition, the College of Law introduced a new course to support writing center tutors. Advanced Legal Writing equips students with the skills to teach writing and editing and effectively serve as peer tutors.
“Students sometimes find peer tutors less threatening, so they will go to them for help when they might not reach out to the professor,” Anderson said. “Peer tutoring can also reduce the stigma associated with asking for assistance.”
Upcoming changes to the Boyd Law Building will also help support the center, including a remodel to enhance its space overlooking the Iowa River and new technology for advanced writing workshops and writing support for upper-level students.
By the Numbers:
Additional resources and greater tutor availability have led to a steady increase in the number of appointments with the center over the past three years.
Writing Center Appointments (Totals by academic years)
News from the Columbia Climate School
America’s groundwater crisis.
The New York Times has undertaken an excellent and comprehensive study of America’s groundwater resources. According to a report last week by Dionne Searcey and Delger Erdenesanaa :
“America’s stewardship of one of its most precious resources, groundwater, relies on a patchwork of state and local rules so lax and outdated that in many places oversight is all but nonexistent, a New York Times analysis has found. The majority of states don’t know how many wells they have, the analysis revealed. Many have incomplete records of older wells, including some that pump large volumes of water, and many states don’t register the millions of household wells that dot the country… For generations, groundwater regulations around the country were routinely based on legal principles or economic forces that prioritized the needs of the moment, like farming and ranching in the West, or urban expansion in Eastern states… There is no shortage of rules. In fact, states have created such a tangle of regulations that it can be difficult to understand how much water is being extracted from aquifers, complicating the efforts to protect them.”
This basic resource is endangered, while at the same, time anti-regulatory forces dominating the fringe of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are working to cut EPA’s budget and shut down the government due to their perception that public administration is not important. Groundwater contamination is not a new issue, but it rarely attracts attention. This is because even though it is a critical resource, it is not visible to the naked eye. It is buried underground. Here, in New York City, our original ecosystems featured plentiful groundwater resources that we completely destroyed as the city’s development moved north from lower Manhattan. The result was the construction of reservoirs. including one located where Bryant Park sits today, another in Central Park, and finally, today’s multi-billion-dollar engineering marvel that includes a system of reservoirs in the Croton and Delaware watersheds north of the city.
In our case, groundwater destruction was the price we paid for the density of development we wanted, but that density created the wealth required to generate the tax revenues needed to build and now maintain our water system. I doubt the rest of the country wants to imitate New York City’s population density or tax burden. But unwittingly, the anti-tax and anti-regulatory zealots that dominate some of our state and local governments may eventually have to pay cash to purify water that today is filtered by environmental services provided by natural ecosystems. Destroy the ecosystems, over-pump the groundwater, and before you know it, you are digging reservoirs and spending billions of dollars to filter and treat water to get rid of all the chemical contaminants you’ve allowed to pollute this essential resource.
Water, like air, is not an optional resource for our species. And dirty air and water make humans sick and can kill us. So, today’s anti-regulatory advocates will be leaving expensive water bills as a legacy to their children and grandchildren.
The New York Times ’ report provides examples of weak and understaffed state agencies regulating groundwater. Many states do not know the number of wells that are pumping water from aquifers within their borders. Population growth and increased economic activity lead to the increased use of these resources. The great danger is that by over-pumping, aquifers that feed groundwater sources can run dry. Climate change has altered weather patterns, and communities that once had little groundwater may have over-supply, and places that once had lots of supply are now suffering from drought conditions. The lack of information and organizational capacity are indicators of America’s weak ability to manage this increasingly threatened resource.
I anticipate that water scarcity and water quality issues will reach crisis levels in localities all over America in the next several decades. Like the groundwater in Manhattan, some of the damage will be irreversible and will require billions of dollars of infrastructure construction. In other cases, ecosystem restoration, investment in filtration plants, and construction of public water systems may enable continued use of groundwater resources. The sad fact is that an active program of data collection and remedial measures today could save billions of dollars in the future, but local politics and the economic and political power of those currently over-using groundwater makes it unlikely that these resources can be protected adequately. Aquifers are recharged by rainwater, but if recharge zones are paved over, the rain may never reach the places they need to get to replenish the groundwater.
It is a pure case of the “tragedy of the commons,” where it is in everyone’s self-interest to overuse a free common resource until we so overuse it that it is destroyed. The New York Times ’ study is an important effort to enhance our understanding of the issue, and I am certain that there are many state and local officials who worry about current trends. In today’s U.S. Congress, there is no chance that a national policy to promote groundwater protection could be enacted. Since water supply is largely a local issue, the locus of any policies that protect groundwater would be at the state and local levels. The federal government could provide expertise and funds, but not with the current congress. The objective environmental conditions that localities will be confronted with will be reduced supply and contaminated water. In most cases, these conditions will deteriorate gradually, and prevention will require a forward-facing government that can act on trend lines. Some will manage to accomplish this, others will not, but communities cannot exist without water. Homeowners may be confronted with the choice of radical increases in water taxes or radical decreases in their home equity. While I might sound alarmist to some, the impact of water supply on housing is already being experienced.
Communities in Arizona that have inadequate water supply are starting to restrict land use development. In a New York Times piece this past June, Christopher Flavelle and Jack Healy reported that:
“Arizona has determined that there is not enough groundwater for all of the housing construction that has already been approved in the Phoenix area, and will stop developers from building some new subdivisions, a sign of looming trouble in the West and other places where overuse, drought and climate change are straining water supplies. The decision by state officials very likely means the beginning of the end to the explosive development that has made the Phoenix area the fastest growing metropolitan region in the country. The state said it would not revoke building permits that have already been issued and is instead counting on new water conservation measures and alternative sources to produce the water necessary for housing developments that have already been approved.”
The American idea that resources are infinite and the market can be totally free is running directly into the limits of local water supply. It is not that we are running out of water. The planet has the same amount of water that it has had throughout human existence. However, some has been polluted, some has been contaminated by salt water, and people have moved away from places with plenty of water to places that have limited supplies. The land may be cheaper in Arizona, and the building regulations may be less stringent, but without water, none of that matters.
Most of America is not a desert, and with adequate infrastructure investment, water can be transported over thousands of miles to meet people’s needs. But that costs money, and the era of clean and free groundwater supply is likely coming to an end. Groundwater could be protected with adequate planning and governance, but it will likely fall victim to short-term thinking, greed, and under-regulation. The future of America’s water supply is an open question. The need for an adequate water supply is not open to question.