UNDP project revives rural village courts in Bangladesh
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.
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.
The UNDP-supported project is providing training for a range of people involved in this rural justice system, from village police and village court judges and staff to the local politicians who are involved with them. The project also works to promote awareness of this system with the people who need it, and to arm them with the knowledge they need to resolve judicial disputes in transparent, and low-cost, ways.
The results of this project have been two-fold. Local police stations and higher level judicial systems are seeing fewer cases as they make their way to the village courts instead. It is also helping to strengthen communities as the skills and training picked up by local representatives improves the running of government institutions overall and the other services they provide. Finally, the alternative dispute resolution methods offered by the village courts are drawing communities together as they work to find practical solutions to local level disputes.