Enabling Access to Justice for All in Bangladesh

Empowering Rural Justice: The Success of Village Courts in Bangladesh

May 8, 2024

Community Triumph: Celebrating Justice and Unity at a Village Court Event in Bangladesh

©UNDP Bangladesh

With a limited number of judges available to address the needs of the populace, Bangladesh faced a daunting backlog of 4.2 million pending cases, significantly hampering access to justice, particularly for the underprivileged. Recognizing the urgency of the backlog issue, Bangladesh amended its Code of Civil Procedure in 2003 to streamline judicial proceedings. Subsequently, in 2009, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the Local Government Division (LGD) and the European Union, initiated the Activating Village Courts in Bangladesh (AVCB) program. This initiative aimed to bolster inclusivity within the justice system. Through the AVCB program, expedited resolutions of petty disputes at the rural level were achieved, offering a ray of hope to millions.

The first phase of the project was piloted from 2009 –2015 and the second phase was implemented from January 2016-June 2022. During this time, Village Courts resolved 83% of cases, realizing compensation amounting  US$26.46 million. Additionally, 18,000 cases were transferred from District Courts, showcasing the effectiveness of Village Courts in reducing backlog.

Through the Village Court system, justice found its way to the doorsteps of the marginalized people. In Naogaon, Kamona Rani's story stands as a testament to this change. Her quest for justice, once marred by violence and despair, found a swift resolution through the Union Parishad (UPs), the grassroots administrative body empowered by the AVCB program. In just 19 days, Kamona received the justice she sought, her faith in the system restored.

But Kamona's story is not unique. Across Bangladesh, around 270,000 lives have been touched, and transformed, by AVCB so far.

Building on the success of the first two phases, the LGD, EU, and UNDP expanded their partnership in 2023, financing a third phase of functioning Village Courts for 3,041 Union Parishads. This initiative now offers Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services to 89 million rural Bangladeshis across 61 districts. The remaining three districts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have their own traditional dispute resolution system, which UNDP supports through other initiatives for resilience building.

By 2023, over 300,000 individuals gained access to justice through UNDP-supported ADR mechanisms. UNDP remains committed to advocating for and supporting improvements in the quality of access to justice, including enhancing legal aid for indigent litigants and digitalizing the court system. This endeavor aims to make equitable, non-discriminatory, and accountable governance a reality for the people of Bangladesh.  Looking ahead to 2026, village courts aspire to further extend their services to marginalized populations, and bring Bangladesh closer to achieve SDGs by 2030, where no one is left behind.

Discover how the Village Courts in Bangladesh are transforming justice at the grassroots level, bringing hope and resolution to the doorsteps of millions