Talking It Out: Innovative Training and Techniques Tackle Bangladesh’s Court Backlog
12 Mar 2015
Face time with Justices from the Supreme Court is typically a rarity for lower court judges, but such meetings have become more frequent as a result of a UNDP Judicial Strengthening (JUST) Project initiative that encourages higher court justices to train and mentor lower court judges in the field. This unprecedented approach allows Supreme Court justices to share their unique expertise with District Court judges in a more local context.
Through the training, the lower court judges learned about the different aspects of mediation, including stages of mediation, the role of the mediator, best practices, case management mechanisms, impediments to mediation and the psychological aspects of mediation. A total of 19 Senior and Assistant Judges from the Dhaka and Kishorganj District Family Courts participated in the training, including three women judges.
The UNDP’s JUST Project supports the judiciary in strengthening its capacity to administer justice. One of the Project’s primary aims is to reduce the overwhelming backlog of cases in Bangladesh’s courts, estimated to be approximately 1.8 million cases at the Project’s outset. It is believed that a reduction in the backlog will provide a sustainable foundation for the improvement of access to justice, especially for vulnerable groups such as the poor, women and children.
To achieve its aim of strengthening the court system, the JUST Project has had to think outside of the box. It has adopted the untraditional means of using Supreme Court Justices as resources for district court judges, giving the district court judges the opportunity to interact with the country’s top judicial minds. In an effort directly aimed at reducing the case backlog, Supreme Court justices have offered training and mentorship on mediation, an important alternative method of dispute resolution that assists parties in resolving their differences by encouraging discussion and taking the dispute out of the potentially lengthy and expensive court process. To put things into perspective, it would be akin to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo offering private football lessons to aspiring players of the game.
Mediation can be an especially effective tool in family law. At the Project’s outset, Family Courts in Dhaka had a backlog of over 10,000 pending cases. The JUST Project has aimed to raise awareness on mediation as a way to resolve such cases by mandating mediation under section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedurein three pilot districts.
Quaniz Fatima, a Family Court Judge in Dhaka, noted that the typical trial process can have a devastating effect on families. Individuals have the right to appeal a Family Court judge’s decision to the higher courts, an act which can take an inordinate amount of time and considerably disrupt families in the process. Additionally, court-ordered dower payments are often made in installments, which can prolong the conflict for all involved. In comparison, mediation allows the couple to negotiate their own, more flexible terms, such as a lump sum payment rather than installments. Mutual agreement resolves disputes more quickly and in a far less acrimonious fashion than the court process.
Ms. Fatima also acknowledged the importance of the mediation training provided by JUST and the Supreme Court Justices:
“The knowledge and skills we attained from the training with the Justices on mediation tools and techniques and the sessions on psychological aspects of mediation and case management will enable me to resolve cases through mediation and reunite broken families.”
Mohammed Iqbal Bahar, a Family Court Judge from Kishorganj District, had never before interacted with higher court judges in his five years of judicial experience. Mr. Bahar had been working specifically in the field of family law for less than one year at the time of the training, and was open about his uncertainty in applying mediation to family disputes:
“At times I was devastated when I saw the sufferings of the women and children as consequences of family disputes and I was confused how to reunite the family through mediation. I participated in mediation awareness workshops arranged by the [JUST] Project before, yet this time it was an experience I will not soon forget. The people who spoke and taught us were not only experts, but they were highest ranked people in our field. It’s not every day that a Supreme Court Justice is available [for us] to ask judicial questions to. They spoke with clarity and an intimate understanding of how mediation could help in better case management and how it could help with the dispensing of quality justice in family cases.”
The number of cases resolved through mediation has increased by 49% since baseline data for the Project was collected in 2012. In 2012, 956 cases were resolved by mediation. A total of 1,420 cases were resolved by mediation in 2014, which represented an increase of 24% over 2013. JUST continues to expand its training programme, having involved 780 lawyers and judges in training sessions since 2012. In 2014 alone, 280 lawyers and judges attended awareness raising and train-the-trainer sessions.
Basic Information on JUST:
The JUST project focuses on four outputs:
1. Improved case management in the Supreme Court;
2. Improved strategic planning and administrative capacity of the Supreme Court;
3. Three district courts deliver improved services for court users; and
4. Strengthened training capacity on case management.
Author: Gillian Croucher