Nipping crime in the bud
In Bangladesh the formal justice system is under tremendous pressure, with huge caseloads and vastly overstretched staff. This has resulted in a backlog of court cases that today numbers half a million.
For the poor, particularly those from rural areas and marginalized groups, this situation is compounded by the prohibitive costs of legal proceedings and a lack of knowledge that severely restricts their access to the formal justice system.
- Since 2010, village courts have been set up in 338 Union Parishads nationwide
- In less than a year, over 5,000 cases were resolved.
- Cases brought to the village Village courts also help to remove strain from the backlog in the formal courts.
Nazma Ahmed was thrown off the land she was leasing to grow grain and not given back her deposit of Tk 20,000. Her case wasn’t resolved by the village elders. In the months she waited for the village elders to take action she, her mother and her daughter went hungry, she explains.
“I lost my husband to disease and my son-in-law to election violence. I have to support my mother and my daughter. All of us are widows,” she said.
The Government of Bangladesh, with technical assistance from UNDP and financial support from the European Union, has initiated a project that is reviving almost 500 rural village courts, bringing fair, accountable and accessible justice to the local level. Each court is made up of a five-member jury headed by a locally-elected official; the jury members are made up of a mix of local community members and other elected officials. They are empowered to hear both criminal and civil cases calling for damages of up to approximately US$350.
Since 2010, support provided by UNDP and EU has helped to set up village courts in 338 Union Parishads nationwide and over 5,000 cases have been resolved. The court system works on the principle of restorative justice and relies on the human sentiment of shame and dishonour for conflict resolution.
“Petty arguments often evolve into serious conflicts,” says the Upazilla chairman. Many crimes start of as small fights. The village court system nips these in the bud.”
Village courts try to bring traditional justice into a semi-formal domain where there is a greater degree of transparency and efficacy.
In Nazma Ahmed’s case, the defendant was ordered to give back her Tk 20,000 deposit immediately. Nazma used the money to rent land, knowing that she won’t have to go through the same pain with the informal justice sector behind her.
The court system is working says the Union Parishad chairman, but we need more responsibility to be able to make an impact. “Currently, the upper ceiling is Tk 25,000, but the price of a cow costs anywhere between Tk 40,000 and 80,000 so there is very little that falls into our jurisdiction.
UNDP is advocating to raise that amount to Tk 100,000 in the coming years.
Source: Empowered Lives. Resilient Bangladesh. Results achieved with our partners, 2006-2011