Access to justice for 27 million rural Bangladeshis

The claimant, Pabitra Bala and her son Nikhil Bala are very satisfied with the decision of the Village Court. It has allowed Nikhil to continue to contribute to the household. Photo: UNDP Bangaldesh

Pabitra Bala is a 65 year old widow from Magura district in rural Bangladesh. She is extremely poor with very few belongings, earning only a small income of 1000 BDT (USD 13) a month from laboring on her neighbor’s land and begging in the town. 

Highlights

  • Average time it takes to resolve a complaint is only 28 days compared to 5 years in the formal legal sector.
  • 68 percent of those directly involved with a village court case were satisfied or very satisfied with the manner in which the village courts dealt with the case.
  • Communities believe law and order have improved in their communities because of the village courts.
  • Phase II will offer localized justice to 20 million rural peoples in 1,000 unions (collections of villages), in addition to 7 million people and 351 unions covered in phase I.
  • Duration of new phase will be January 2016 – December 2019.

Her son, Nikhil has a mental disability, earns an income from fishing and pulling rickshaw van when he can.  

Pabitra and Nikhil’s livelihoods were threatened when one day, Pabitra’s neighbor stole their fishing net, bicycle and rickshaw vans. She submitted a written complaint to the village courts of Nakole union of Magura district claiming 19,000 BDT (USD 246.00) compensation.

UNDP, with EU funding, supported the Ministry of Local Government’s pilot project “Activating Village Courts in Bangladesh” establishing village courts in 351 unions offering fast, low cost, local dispute resolution to 7 million rural peoples in Bangladesh. These help communities to access cheap and speedy justice on their doorsteps and offer a platform to resolve their grievances without having to navigate a complex, expensive and notoriously slow formal court system.

In this case the village court ruled in favor of Pabitra Bala and ordered the accused to pay 16,000 BDT (USD 207.00) to Pabitra Bala within 30 days. Pabitra used the compensation to restore her assets and expressed satisfaction with the process.

“I was so happy with the Village Court decision, I cannot express myself. After getting the compensation, I purchased two rickshaw vans, one for each of my sons. Now, I do not need to go begging in the town. I am so satisfied.”

Since the village courts opened their doors 85,500 cases have been registered to the courts and 78 percent of these have been resolved taking average 28 days in line with the provisions of the Village Courts Act. Importantly 31 percent of these cases involved women and this number is growing annually. 

The first phase of the project was piloted from 2009–2015 and the success of the pilot has led the Government of Bangladesh, EU and UNDP to scale up the programme to a new phase for January 2016 to December 2019. The project will be implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives. During Phase II, LGD will activate Village Courts in 1,000 Unions, across 8 Divisions.

The project aims to improve access to justice for disadvantaged and marginalized groups in Bangladesh, which will ultimately reduce the existing backlog of cases in the higher and lower judiciary and thus increase access to justice within shortest time and affordable manner for the people of Bangladesh, particularly vulnerable groups.

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