Village Courts Conference 2012

09 Jun 2012

Speech by Mr. Neal Walker
UNDP Resident Representative

Chief Guest, the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina;

Special Guest, Honorable Minister for Ministry of LGRD and Cooperatives, Mr. Syed Ashraful Islam MP;

Special Guest, Honorable State Minister for Ministry of LGRD and Cooperatives, Mr. Jahangir Kabir Nanak MP;

Guest of Honour, Chargé d’Affires a.i. of the Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh, Mr. Milko van Gool;

Chair, Secretary of the Local Government Division, Mr. Abu Alam Mohammad Shahid Khan;

Welcome Speaker, Additional Secretary of the Local Government Division and the National Project Director of Activating Village Courts in Bangladesh Project, Mr. KM Mozammel Hoq;

Senior Government officials, UP elected representatives, member of NGOs, Journalists, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning to all of you on the occasion of this important gathering.

I would like to thank the Ministry of Local Government Rural Development and Cooperatives for organizing this national conference on access to justice, a topic which is a basic human right and of critical importance to the rural community of Bangladesh;

I would like to highlight the linkages between Justice and Poverty:

  • Of all areas of Governance, access to justice is probably most directly linked
    to poverty reduction. Without a justice system that works, the poor will
    always be trapped in a dependency cycle with no remedy to their
    grievances; thus the imbalance between the ‘powerful’ and the ‘powerless’
    will perpetuate.
  • Poverty is more than the lack of material well-being. It is the denial of
    choices and opportunities that are essential for human development - to
    lead a long, healthy, productive life and to enjoy a decent standard of living,
    freedom and the respect of others.
  • Lack of access to justice is a defining characteristic of human poverty, a
    challenge to be overcome through rights-based approaches.
  • Two important survey results -- baseline survey for the village courts in
    2010 and review of social barrier and limitation of village courts in 2010-
    show that poor people have very little access to justice globally including
    Bangladesh; therefore more people in Bangladesh are interested in local
    justice systems for resolving their disputes but have little hope because of
    corruption, illegal, bias, imposition of decision over the disputant parties
    and finally fatwa.
  • Further, the Survey results conclude that there is a significant demand for
    village courts -- about 92%; and only 24% of the people know partly about
    village courts.
  • In short, addressing the issue of access to justice, and the creation of an
    enabling institutional environment based on democratic principles,
    becomes a fundamental component of any poverty alleviation strategy.

Next, let’s acknowledge that Justice is a crucial service:

  • One of the Government’s main thrusts is service orientation and service delivery -- evident through the many initiatives it has undertaken such as Digital Bangladesh and Local Governance Reform, with the slogan ‘bringing services to the doorstep of the people’.
  • Justice is also an essential public service. The State must provide the mechanism to effectively remedy the grievances of citizens, especially the poor and vulnerable groups who often have no resource or knowledge to access to justice.
  • Therefore, the Village Court project is one such mechanism of the Government that brings justice to the doorstep of the people at low cost and in a reasonable timeframe.

What are the achievements of the Activating Village Courts Project?

  • This project was started in 2009 in partnership with LGRD, UNDP and the European Union. It covers 350 Union Parishads (UPs) of 56 upazilas, in 14 districts of 6 divisions.
  • The project provides technical and financial support to building the institutional capacity of UPs through tailored trainings, installation of ejlas (court benches), provision of Village Courts forms and formats for efficient case management together with supporting staff to reactive village courts in target areas.
  • As of April 2012, a total of 15,760 cases were registered in Village Courts and, of these, 10,765 have been resolved of which 7,372 decisions have been implemented. In addition, 906 cases have been referred to Village Courts by district courts. This indicates a positive link in reducing case backlogs in the upper courts. Of the resolved cases, so far Taka 28 Crore has been paid as compensation and passed on to the aggrieved parties.
  • Out of total registered cases, 4,802 cases – almost one-third of the total, were filed by the women to Village Courts for remedy and currently women representation in the village court panel is 7%.

What are some of the major challenges remaining?

  • I am very happy with the success of the current phase of the project. The statistics mentioned above indicate significant improvement has been made in the overall access to justice in Bangladesh particularly at the grass root level. Today’s grand event with the kind presence of the honorable Prime Minister not only shows the commitment of the executing ministry but also the commitment of the entire government to ensure access to justice for the people, especially in rural areas.
  • But there are a few persisting challenges, which need immediate attention from the Government and various stakeholders. These include:
    • The on-going Village Courts Act amendment process needs to be expedited to reflect the reality of society today
    • Scaling up the success of the pilot village courts across the country is necessary
    • Development partners are interested in supporting the nationwide coverage of these local justice services but this will require the government’s commitment with adequate financial resource allocation through the national budget ;
    • It is important for Village Courts to be gender-friendly and sensitive to the needs of vulnerable and poor people including women and children to access to justice;
    • Broader human rights principles and a human rights framework should be upheld while justice service is rendered through village courts; and,
    • Village Courts services should be considered comprehensively as a part of services delivered by UPs.

In concluding, I would like to make a few quick comments.

  • First, let me reiterate our appreciation to the European Union for their support to this successful project.
  • Second, to highlight that an effective justice sector framework recognizes that there are many institutions involved in delivering justice. To ensure these services are delivered efficiently, relevant institutions need to be strengthened; (For example, if court system works and people don’t know how to formulate legal claims, then there’s no access to justice )
  • UNDP, from various perspectives, works in the justice sector with the Ministry of Law and justice and parliamentary affairs on issues such as legal aid and Alternative Dispute Resolution; We work with the police, through our Police Reform Programme, and finally, in partnership with LGD we are reactivating Village courts bridging the formal and informal justice system for effective justice services at local level.
  • But as we look at these broad challenges, we see the need to work on a sector programme for justice that addresses different problems (backlog of cases, for example) from a comprehensive point of view. I believe that if Government were to develop a comprehensive approach, we could imagine an alignment of donor resources so as to holistically address the various dimensions in ensuring a fair, transparent and efficient justice system for the rural poor;
  • UNDP, supported by other development partners including the European Commission, hope to continue funding the Village Court Programme for the rural poor in Bangladesh.
  • In closing I would like to congratulate all those involved in organizing today’s event. This includes the LGD of LGRD&C Ministry, Village Court Programme team, senior officials of the other ministries, Civil Society members, Journalists, Elected representatives and our development partner: the European Commission.
  • And finally, I would like to thank the Honourable Prime Minister once again for her support by attending this event.
  • Thank you very much.