An Advocacy Workshop on 'Barriers In Course of Justice Delivery System'

Bangladesh National Women Lawyer’s Association (BNWLA), one of Community Legal Service (CLS) partners, recently conducted a research on Justice Systems in Courts in Bangladesh using a court user survey. From the findings of this research it was clear that prevailing justice system in courts is an issue of rising concern and needs to be promptly addressed in order to ensure justice to victims, especially for the poor and marginalised people who are victims of violence and other forms of crime. BNWLA subsequently conducted a series of advocacy workshops in order to share research findings – two  of  these  workshops   were  titled, ‘Improving    Justice

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Delivery System’ and ‘Improvement of Prosecution System Regarding VAW Cases’. Following these two successful workshops, BNWLA proceeded to organise a third, titled ‘Barriers in Course of Justice Delivery’.

In this regard, an advocacy workshop was held on 24 September 2016 at BRAC Centre INN, Dhaka, with lawyers, court personnel and relevant NGOs. The workshop was organised by BNWLA,as part of implementing the project ‘Making Women Legal Rights – A Reality in Bangladesh’ (MWLR), supported by UKaid.

Ms. Ummey Kulsum, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Fawzul Azim, Chief Research Officer, Bangladesh Law Commission; and Md. Hasanul Islam, Director (Research and Publication), Judicial Administration Training Institute of Bangladesh graced the event as Guests of Honor. Ms. Fawzia Karim Firoze, President of BNWLA was Chair and Ms. Salma Ali, Executive Director of BNWLA served as the Moderator at the workshop.

The workshop began with the welcome speech and keynote presentation by Advocate Fawzia Karim Firoze, President of BNWLA. In her speech, she said, “Our justice system has various barriers. People are suffering for these problems every day. To address this issue and find out solutions a research was conducted under the ‘Making Women Legal Rights – A Reality in Bangladesh’ project’ by BNWLA and CLS.” She also mentioned the overarching barriers of our justice system, “Lack of efficient prosecutors is one of the main barriers of our justice system. This is an important cause for delays in disposing cases. Competent prosecutors should be appointed to reduce this problem. Secondly, the court room environment is not women and children friendly. The court rooms are very small and cannot accommodate sufficient number of clients and lawyers. In this uncomfortable environment no important judicial decision can be provided.”

She further iterated, “In our research, indecent language surfaced as strong barrier to justice in our justice system. In cases where women are involved, language should be decent. In many cases the lawyers and court officials use indecent languages in open court towards women victims or witnesses for the purposes of trial – in the process women are being abused and defamed in open court in the name of trial, and this is a barrier that must be resolved immediately.”

Ms. Fawzia further emphasised, “The predominant barrier within our justice delivery system is, ‘Cost‘. Clients are spending a lot more money than the actual cost of trial. Unofficial and undue money exchange is taking place within court offices every day. As a result of this corruption, the idea of getting justice becomes frustrating and unaffordable to many. BNWLA’s research concentrated on this hidden cost and identified it as one of the main barriers of our justice system.“

After the presentation, the speakers at the workshop attempted to address the subject matter of justice delivery in courts. Md. Hasanul Islam, Director of Judicial Administration Training Institute said that there are various barriers against ensuring justice including issues of remand, unfriendly environment for women, security issues, and the like. He stressed that the Law should be followed strictly. In cases where women are involved as victims or witnesses, women magistrates or judges should be provided so that they feel comfortable to provide their statements for judicial purposes.

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Furthermore, Fawzul Azim, Chief Research Officer of Law Commission, concentrated his speech on the ‘Cost Issue’ pertaining to our justice system. He underscored that it is essential to identify first the ‘Actual Cost’ of the justice system, while it is also important to evaluate the origin of hidden costs. He mentioned that a colonial set up that accommodates a culture of tips is at the heart of these hidden costs. He further stated that the justice system has not been modernised enough and is still following outdated laws. He warned that the solution would not be quick and easy and that it required an overhauling of the entire judicial system in order address these barriers. He mentioned how court officers who are involved in acts of corruption and bribery do not face any form of prosecution as such, mostly due to these outdated laws. For instance, corrupt officers cannot be transferred from their posts due to lack of appropriate legislations to deal with the matter. Mr. Azim reiterated the need for amending and updating existing laws, and mentioned that lawyers have a critical role to play in improving the current situation in that they should not tolerate any illegal gestures made towards them, and should not pay any extra money unofficially to get the job done.

Ms. Ummey Kulsum, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs pointed out, “To reduce barriers in our justice system, the government has taken various initiatives. To control court corruption, a ‘Court Management Committee’ has been formed comprising District judge, DC, SP, President and Secretary of BAR Associations, etc. This committee is functioning and holding meetings every month. Besides this, the government will increase the number of Women and Children tribunals and judges very soon.” To address the court corruption, Ms. Kulsum also stressed, “Ministry of Law is considering amending the ‘Appointment Rules’ of court staff. According to existing rules, the bench officer cannot be transferred. Due to this particular fact, many corrupted staff are still abusing their positions to gain illegal benefits. To change this situation, Ministry of Law will amend the relevant laws very soon. Besides this, to monitor effectively, the whole system will also be digitalised very soon. Initiatives have been taken to launch ‘judiciary’ for effective supervision.”

On a concluding note, Advocate Salma Ali, Executive Director of BNWLA, reiterated, “Due to the hidden costs in the judicial system, lawyers and clients become vulnerable. They become hostages of this situation. To fight against it, we should be vocal. Initiatives should be taken by convincing public prosecutors or BAR associations to take effective steps against these barriers. We also should be conscious about our responsibilities as lawyers. We should not participate in illegal dealing of money to get our jobs done. We should protest all sorts of irregularities and should act actively to build a better justice delivery system.”