Effective judicial reforms require hard facts

Feb 20, 2014

On an average the civil case disposal duration is 5.3 years and for criminal case is 3.7 years. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.

A civil case was filed in a Dhaka Court on November 30, 1998. The case was finally disposed on January 30, 2011, 12 years and two months after 104 dates of appearance including dates for pre-trial, trial and post-trial due to the existing adversarial trial system in Bangladesh. In a recent baseline survey of UNDP’s Judicial Strengthening Project, it was revealed that on an average the civil case disposal duration is 5.3 years and for criminal case is 3.7 years. The land or property related cases constitute the majority of civil cases (40.7 per cent). 

UNDP’s comparative advantage and trustful partnership in working with formal institutions provides immediate access to accurate data. Such statistics are necessary to provide a basis to establish effective remedies. Additionally, accurate and up-to-date case data can facilitate civil society, human rights institutions and specialised NGOs in scrutinising the decisions of judges.

The judicial Baseline Survey, conducted by JUST jointly with the SURCH, a pioneer house of survey research in Bangladesh, assessed the situation of access to justice in the districts. The survey thus provided a solid understanding of how people, including vulnerable and disadvantaged, resolve legal disputes both through the formal and informal justice systems and measured court level of satisfaction.

The survey covered 4,320 households and 825 court users along with judges, lawyers, law enforcers, public prosecutors, legal institutions, village arbitrators, and also with diagnostic of cases in Dhaka, Kishoreganj and Rangamati districts. Of the respondent, 59 per cent were female and 41 were male of which 26 per cent faced disputes either in civil or in criminal or both civil and criminal Courts.

The four months long study revealed that around 70 per cent of court users are not satisfied with the current formal justice system while they also cited corruption, case delays and excessive cost of litigation as the main impediments to fair and speedy justice.

According to the survey, 52 per cent people have access to informal justice. Of them, 72 per cent disputes were through village salish. 66 per cent of them are not satisfied with the salish because of nepotism, partiality, influence of politics etc.

On the contrary, in the formal Court system, around 79 per cent of court users are not satisfied with the current formal justice system. The study revealed the cause of non satisfaction stating that 31 per cent court users face difficulties because of delay, 16 per cent Court users are harassed by lawyers, 10 per cent suffer due to frequent changes of dates, and 12.5 per cent people do not take services from formal justice institutions due to  lack of money.

Of the respondents, 23 per cent seek judicial remedy from both formal and informal system while 10 per cent of them are purely relying on formal Court system. Despite having disputes, 39 per cent do not seek judicial remedy.

Terming the study as time and cost effective, Mr. Mostak Ahmed, monitoring and evaluation officer of JUST, points out, ‘The survey has combined three objectives–assessment of perception with regards to access to justice; survey satisfaction over the Court users and  collection of baseline data. The whole survey took less time and money in terms of the magnitude of the study.’

Dr. Liaquat A. Siddiqui, Professor of Law Department of the University of Dhaka and a Judicial Expert in the Survey team of SURCH says, ‘The study will help the judiciary, government, and the development partners to initiate further project to mitigate the problems.’ He also emphasised on the importance of conducting a national survey in future.

Mr. Jakhongir Khaydarov, Chief Technical Advisor of JUST, says, ‘Measuring and analysing demand for an independent judiciary is an important area of UNDP’s JUST project, as it is the development of statistical systems to measure the performance of the judicial system. The statistics generated through case tracking and monitoring systems will not only allow Courts to better manage their operations, but it will also enable external watchdogs to observe trends and identify aberrations.’