A major victory for village courts

18 Sep 2013

imageActivating Village Court: an initiative to ensure justice for the citizens of rural area. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.
The Jatiya Sangsad passed The Village Court (Amendment) Bill, 2013 on 18 September 2013 with a provision to incorporate several new clauses into the existing Village Court Act, 2006 for the smooth carrying out of judicial activities at the village level. This represents a major achievement and presents itself as a key tangible result of the Village Courts project.

State Minister for Local Government Rural Development & Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak, on behalf of LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, placed the Bill before Jatiya Sangsad where it was passed by voice vote on Wednesday.

Speaking about the achievement Sardar M. Asaduzzaman, Village Courts, Project Manager said, “The Village Courts Project - since its very inception - took this (The passing of the amended bill) as one of the Policy-level challenges that if enacted would make the Village Courts more efficient, effective and time worthy. Today's amendment is the result of the Project's extensive evidence-based advocacy and lobby with government.”

As reported by The Daily Star with 2.3 million cases pending in the courts, and a ten to fifteen year backlog, the wait for justice can be a long one.

Village Courts, an initiative adopted by the Bangladesh government with support from the United Nations Development Programme and funding from the EU,have reduced the time, expenses and hassle that plaintiffs often associate with the conventional courts system.

Clash, theft, damaging of crops, harming cattle, breach of monetary deal, poisoning fish in ponds etc. can be settled in the village court as per the law. The amended Act strengthens the institutional sustainability of Village Courts and increases the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Village courts from Tk 25,000 to Tk 75,000 and will extend the outreach of Village Courts. 

Another aspect of the amended Act is gender sensitivity and women’s empowerment, through mandatory women representation in the village court panel thus ensuring that the voice of female victims are heard during case hearings.

It has a provision to dispose of any revision petition against any village court verdict within 30 working days as well. Necessary amendments were brought to the existing rules for not holding trial of any convicted person under the village court and incorporating rules to dispose of revision prayers by the concerned assistant judge within 30 days after receiving any petition against any village court order.

The said amendment has introduced a provision for inclusion of a rule for increasing women representation in the village court and dispose of cases within a stipulated timeframe. Besides, the bill incorporated rules aimed at stopping the trend of filing false cases with the village court. It also recommended a fine of Taka 5,000 in case of filing false charges.

The monetary penalty to be paid by a convict for contempt of court or non-compliance with its order has also been increased to BDT 1,000 from BDT 500. In order to simplify judicial proceedings and ensure smooth and fair operations of village courts the said amendment will play a pivotal role. Nevertheless, courts from the lower level to the apex are burdened with huge number of cases and the said amendment will contribute to reduce the burden gradually and widening up access to justice for all and support establish rule of law.

Since its inception the ‘Activating Village Courts Project in Bangladesh’ Project has considered updating the existing legal framework as one of its major Policy-level challenges. In order to amend the Act for making Village Courts more efficient, effective and time worthy a series of discussions, dialogues and consultations in local and national level with pertinent stakeholders has been carried out.

The amendment as passed by the Jatiya Sangsad is the result of the Project's extensive evidence-based advocacy and lobby with government. The said amendment will inevitably pave a way to empowering women, poor and disadvantaged groups to seek remedies for injustices as well as shore up justice institutions to be more responsive toward justice seeker.