Ensure Access to Justice for the Poor: Workshop held on 11 May 2008

Stakeholders in country’s legal system at a workshop on Sunday called for strengthening the traditional ‘outside the court settlement’ system like shalis to ensure access to justice for the poorer section.

They stressed on framing the local justice system and formulating a national standard for composition and system of delivering verdict by the non-conventional modes of justice like the shalis, gram adalat and dispute resolution activities of community police.

The Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust organised the two-day workshop in cooperation with the World Bank at LGED auditorium in the city.

The Local Government and Rural Development adviser, Anwarul Iqbal, inaugurated the programme also addressed by the World Bank country representative, Xian Zhu, and BLAST’s executive director, Taslimur Rahman. The trust chairman Kamal Hossain presided over the inaugural session.

Anwarul Iqbal said the local justice system was aimed at dispensing justice at the door steps of the society without going through a long-drawn legal process.

‘With all its good intentions the local justice system did not always produce the results as intended due to vested interests of the dominant classes of the society,’ he said seeking suggestions on necessary reforms for the popular dispute resolution method.

Responding to reporters, Iqbal said the process of formation of the Local Government Commission was in final stage and it was on president’s table for his approval.

He said the formation of the three-member commission would bring qualitative change in local justice system and people in grassroots level would get access to justice.

Xian Zhu said Bangladesh has been recognized as a frontrunner in access to justice in many ways especially through the traditional systems of justice like shalis much more readily available to the people than formal courts. The reach of these informal systems in Bangladesh is far better than in many other countries, he added.

In working sessions, jurist Shah Deen Malik said, ‘We get much serious when the others speak about our laws and judiciary and consider anything the foreigners say was valuable.’

He criticised the state for a meagre allocation for law and judiciary. ‘Out of the Tk 60,000 crore national budget, only Tk 200 crore was fixed for judiciary and it reflects the situation prevailing.’

Manzoor Hasan of BRAC University said the non-conventional justice system should not be dependent on only NGOs. Rather there should be a bridge between the government and the NGOs, he added.

Lawyer Sara Hossain also questioned the participation of local government representatives in local justice system as they are considered as the power centre of the locality.

She also cautioned the present trend of scaling up the local justice system by NGOs in terms of dealing cases. ‘If scaling up goes in this manner, the quality of judgement falls sharply and that might deny the people of justice,’ she said.