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Dr M Zahir: an eminent jurist any country can be proud of

Written By: NazirAhmed
29/07/2013 22:18 29/07/2013 22:18
Law and Order

Dr M Zahir - an eminent jurist, constitutional law specialist and the country's leading company law expert - died in the Bangkok General Hospital, Thailand, at 10.30 (Bangladesh time) on Thursday, 11 July 2013 at the age of 74.   He was suffering from bone marrow cancer.  His cancer was first detected in Bankok in 2011 and he was last admitted to the Bangkok General Hospital on 27 June 2013. His dead body was flown to Dhaka by a Thai Airways flight on Friday, 12th July 2013.  His first namaj-e-janaza was held on the Supreme Court premises and then the second namaj-e-janaza was held at Baitul Aman Jame Masjid in Dhanmondi.  In both janazas, people from all walks of life including leading politicians of all parties, leading lawyers and Judges of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh attended.  Dr Zahir was buried at Banani graveyard beside the grave of his father.  A pall of gloom descended on the Supreme Court on receiving the news of Dr Zahir’s death.  The judicial proceedings and regular activities at the Appellate Division and the High Court Division were suspended at 12.00 noon and 2.00 PM respectively for Thursday (11 July 2013) after hearing the news of Dr Zahir’s death.  The President, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Supreme Court Bar Association, Bangladesh Bar Council, Law Reporters Forum and senior lawyers across the board in separate messages expressed their deep shock and sorrow at the death of Dr Zahir.  Having heard the news, Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain, who was in Bangkok at that time, rushed to Bangkok hospital to show his last respects to Dr Zahir.    

Dr Zahir was born at Bhabanipur in Calcatta in 1939.  After the communal riots broke out in India in the early 1950s, his family moved to Dhaka.  Dr Zahir started his colourful legal career at Dhaka High Court in 1962 after completing BA (Hons), MA in English Literature and LLB from Dhaka University.  He then passed the English Bar Exams in 1963 and was then called to the English Bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in 1965.  He did his pupilage with Mr Christopher Staughton (later Lord Chief Justice Staughton of the English Court of Appeal).  He obtained an LLM degree from the University of London in 1964 and a PhD on company law from the same university in 1966.  He had taught the company law at Dhaka University for 20 years.  He worked at Australian Attorney General’s Department for one year during 1974-1975 where he was involved in drafting the Securities Laws of Australia.  He was at that time called to the Australian Bar in Canberra as well.  He also worked at the New South Wales Law Reform Commission for a brief period. Dr Zahir got enlisted as a Senior Advocate (double star Advocate) of the Supreme Court in 1978 and became a well-known name in the country’s corporate and business world.  He served as member and convenor of several Company Law Reform Committees in Bangladesh.  He was elected a member of the Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce at Paris.  Dr Zahir was associated with charitable institutions including Ahsania Mission.  As a keen sportsman he played tennis and had a bidding interest in music.  He died leaving behind his wife, a son, three grandchildren, an elder sister and a younger brother Mr M Jamir, former Ambassador and former Chief Information Commissioner.  He is survived by a host of admirers, friends and colleagues.

As mentioned above. Dr Zahir taught company law at Dhaka University for 20 years.  One cannot find a District Bar anywhere in Bangladesh where Dr Zahir does not have a student.  His former students include many Supreme Court Judges and a few former Chief Justices.  His colourful legal career spanned more than 50 years.  All of these have made Dr Zahir a unique personality.  He is the only senior practising lawyer in Bangladesh who did his PhD on Company Law.  He authored some books on legal profession and his experience within it (e.g. Delay in Courts).  However, his jurisprudential mind and expertise in constitution, corporate and securities laws were reflected in his exhaustive and important analytical publication called ‘Company and Securities Law.’  This book of 910 pages has been used as a reference book by the lawyers and Judges alike as well as a text book by students at mainstream universities, both at home and abroad. 

The Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar has been heavily politicised – most of the senior and leading lawyers, directly or indirectly, are affiliated to one or the other political party.  Dr M Zahir was an exception.  He was an impartial and non political figure.  Hardly any notable constitutional writs or items of litigation on constitutional matters (you can name them right from the Agartala Conspiracy case in 1969 to the Thirteenth Amendment Case on the non-party caretaker government at the Appellate Division in 2011) could be found in the last 42 years history where Dr Zahir was not directly or indirectly involved.  In numerous cases he was appointed as Amicus Curie (Friend of the Court) of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.  He would always speak his mind.  His contributions at various TV talk shows on current affairs are invaluable.  He has very good sense of humour.  He had an excellent relationship with Judges and lawyers, both seniors and juniors.  The country has, no doubt, lost an eminent jurist and impartial thinker and expert.  Any country should feel proud of having such an outstanding personality among its citizens.         

Dr Zahir came from a respectable family.  His father, M Asir was a Judge of the Pakistan High Court before Bangladesh’s independence.  By being born in a respected family gave Dr Zahir the opportunity in his childhood to come into contact with Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque, two of the legendaries in the Indian subcontinent in general and the united Bengal in particular, who often visited Dr Zahir’s father.  

I personally had very good relationship with Dr Zahir.  Last year when he visited London, he kindly visited my Chamber/Firm.  We then had dinner together and spoke for a long time on various contemporary legal issues.  He then took part at a Channel I Europe’s live talk show and I was privileged to give him a lift to the studio.  In the Chamber, dinner and on the way to Channel I’s talk show we had long chat, and that was the last time and final time I spent long time with him.  During this long time with him I discussed and drew many issues to his kind attention.  One of them was the possibility of introducing Bangla at the Supreme Court.  He straightway replied “Nazir, look, three things you cannot do in Bangla: Namaj cannot be done in Bangla, Company law cannot be done in Bangla and Supreme Court proceedings cannot done in Bangla.”  There is a strong logic for this assertion.  One of those is perhaps: Supreme Court judgement of a country is often referred to throughout the world.  For example, House of Lords’ judgments and the judgments of the Indian Supreme Court are frequently referred to the proceedings and hearings of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.  Likewise, in order for the judgments of our apex court to be referred to the proceedings of the apex court abroad, the judgments would have to be of that standard.  Thus, if judgement is written in Bangla, can it have international force and be referred abroad?  On the one hand, Dr Zahir expressed deep concern on the ability and performance of some Judges of the High Court division.  On the other hand, he praised the competence and wisdom of some Judges of the Supreme Court.  In praising Justice M Imman Ali, a Judge of the Appellate Division of Bangladesh, Dr Zahir said “He (Justice M Imman Ali) is a just Justice.”    

Dr Zahir, no doubt, established himself as a unique personality in the legal profession of Bangladesh through his merit, his unique mode of expression, his skills and his discipline.  The country has lost only a veteran lawyer, but also a constitutional law specialist and the leading company law expert.  His departure has created a vacuum just when the country has been passing through a critical time, both in the legal field and in the political arena.  This vacuum will not be filled easily.  His absence will strongly be felt in the legal field.  I sincerely pray for the eternal salvation of Dr Zahir’s departed soul.  May Allah (SWT) forgive Dr M Zahir and grant him jannah.

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About NazirAhmed

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  • Name: Barrister Nazir Ahmed
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    Nazir Ahmed is a UK qualified solicitor with many years of experience of advising and training the public sector on all aspects of immigration and nationality Law, civil litigation, constitutional law welfare rights law and environmental health and safety law.
    He is a director of Policyy Review Centre(PRC), London and a consultant with Lincolns Chambers Solicitors. He has conducted training sessions for many national organisations as well as local authorities. His notable clients include various government departments. 
    Apart from his legal profession he is a prolific writer, authored few books and analyst on socio political issues.
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