The idea for a national organisation of lawyers providing free advice and legal representation to people unable to access justice due to poverty or disadvantage was first raised at a national conference of lawyers held by the Bangladesh Bar Council in 1992. The Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) was then established in 1993 dedicated to providing free legal services for the poor, with a Board of Trustees including eminent jurists, lawyers, professionals, and former judges of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. From the outset, BLAST was designed to ensure local involvement and decentralised leadership, with elected leaders of each district Bar Association heading district Management Committees, and civil society members in its Advisory Committees.
The founding member strove to institutionalise, through BLAST, the tradition of legal aid. Over time, BLAST moved from its initial focus on legal representation in the courts, to providing alternative dispute resolution. It also began to address systemic barriers to accessing justice, by undertaking research and advocacy to press for legal, policy and institutional reforms, and undertaking public interest litigation. It undertakes legal awareness programmes for diverse groups, on rights, remedies, and available services, relating to family, criminal, land and labour laws, as well as fundamental rights. It is involved in coordination with the local administration, in particular with justice system actors and civil society organisations.
BLAST’s services are now available to people who are unable to secure access to justice due to lack of means or social disadvantage. It reaches out to low-income groups in informal settlements in the cities, in rural areas, and as well as hard to reach communities in the hills and coastal areas. It also seeks to address issues of exclusion and discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, race, language and disability, as well as displacement.
With offices in 21 districts, BLAST works across the country with specialized staff -lawyers, paralegals, researchers and advocates – alongside its enlisted panel of about 2600+ lawyers who provide pro bono services.