High time to reform the fine system of Bangladesh
Nafiz Ahmed, final year law student, North South University :
Possibly, one of the most common reactions people would have on their first read of the Penal Code, 1860 is an immense shock followed by laughter after learning the amount of maximum fine imposed as punishment for different crimes. If you are not familiar with these provisions, then the maximum amount of fine for “misconduct in public by a drunken person” can serve as a good example, which is 10 Taka only! Where pecuniary punishment is intended to be an effective penalizing method, it now serves as comedic relief for the readers. This reduces the seriousness of the whole punishment system. Such a problem is not only limited to the Penal Code but many other laws enacted in the 18th and 19th century.
For example, section 23 of the Arms Act, 1878 provides one month imprisonment or maximum two hundred Taka fine for violating any rules made under the said Act, section 3(2) of the Juvenile Smoking Act, 1919 provides maximum ten Taka for selling cigarettes to any person under the age of 16, section 4 of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1920 provides maximum one hundred Taka fine or three months imprisonment or both.
Pecuniary punishment can in various ways be good for the judicial system and revenue of the state. Although it may not be the main reason, but many countries maximize collecting fine when they feel the need to increase their national revenue. By imposing suitable fines, Bangladesh can also enhance its revenue.
Greater pecuniary punishment can reduce inmates in the prisons as well. A reasonable amount of fine can be imposed instead of imprisonment for misdemeanors or white collar crimes or first time offences. Fewer prisoners in the prison cells would mean lesser expenses for the government and it will also lead to receiving more money through fines.
It is worth mentioning that Tort Law is not widely practiced in Bangladesh which leaves a great void in the justice system. This void can be somewhat fulfilled by imposing greater fines. The court if it thinks fit may then compensate the victim out of the money received from fine by exercising its discretionary power of awarding cost.
A higher fine should also be imposed to remove the discrimination between rich and poor classes of criminals. Can you imagine a fine of less than a thousand Taka having any effect on a criminal who is wealthy? One may argue that imprisonment might be the proper punishment for a wealthy person in this scenario, but it will create discrimination against the wealthy since they will be getting imprisonment where a non-wealthy person will be getting pecuniary punishment.
If we interpret the statutes by their spirit, then we can understand what effect was intended to be carried by the amount of fine written in the Acts by calculating the value the given amount carried in the year of enactment. This can easily be done by multiplying the fines with the total inflation rate from the year of enactment. Or even other economic formulas may be adopted to revisit the penalties periodically.
One problem will always remain which is, because of high inflation, fines will lose their value within one or two decades. But in my opinion, this problem can also be solved by the enactment of a “Fine Act”. Here offences can be categorized into different classes. Different amounts shall be provided or each of those classes. For example, crimes like murder, rape, and dacoity etc can be categorized as class A where the fine may be unlimited and some other crimes such as unlawful assembly, rioting, affray etc can be categorized as Class D. By this, the legislative body will not have to go through the trouble of amending all the Acts, rather amending the Fines Act from time to time shall be sufficient. In addition, for future Acts the legislative body will not have to set fines for offences, rather it will be enough for them to put the crime in a specific class in accordance with the Fines Act.
One may argue that excessive maximum fine may be prejudicial for the accused. But the key word here is “maximum”. The learned judges, using their discretion can decide from case to case the proper amount of fine for each accused.
It is high time for taking a step forward in order to amend this long-standing problem regarding the insufficient maximum fine. Sincere attention from the legislative body is sought in order to bring more “seriousness” to the Laws of Bangladesh.