Sustainability of Community Legal Services

Under the thematic area of access to justice, a day-long conference titled ‘Sustainability of Community Legal Services’ was held on 4 February 2017 at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka. The conference was designed to highlight the government, community and NGO partnerships. It was jointly organised by WAVE Foundation, Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA) and Nagorik Uddyog, and was supported by Community Legal Services (CLS) Programme, funded by UKaid.

Jerome Sayre, Team Leader of the CLS Programme chaired the conference, while Mohsin Ali, Executive Director of WAVE Foundation presented the keynote speech. Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and Director (In charge) of National Legal Aid Services Organization (NLASO), Md. Mostafizur Rahman; Chief Coordinator of MLAA, Khan Mohammad Shahid; Chief Executive of Nagorik Uddyog, Zakir Hossain; and Senior Governance Advisor of DFID Bangladesh, Joel Harding; spoke at the conference.

During the conference the speakers urged the government and donor organisations to put more emphasis on the mediation process and sought its legal recognition so that the people maintain faith in the system. Speakers further stressed that community based mediation can increase rural people’s access to justice as it can solve local disputes in a faster and cheaper way than the court.

The participants stressed how community mediation could become the best method for settling minor disputes for disadvantaged and would ensure access to justice for all parties. The participants also spoke about how the mediation process will likely address the limitations of the conventional arbitration system and ensure that all parties were provided equal opportunities to present their grievances and receive fair solutions.

Enayetur Rahim, Hon’ble Justice of the High Court Division, Supreme Court of Bangladesh, in his address as Chief Guest, said, “The people do not want to rely on the court for its delay in justice   delivery, and   a  huge backlog    of     cases.      Instead,

they prefer mediation to solve their problems instead of visiting the court, which saves both their time and money.” He also underscored establishing a social arbitration system, which could ease the burden on the judiciary system and stop people from going to court with simple disputes. Mr. Rahim further pointed out, “NGOs can work with the government to motivate people to use this system. NGO paralegal teams can assist the poor and marginalised justice seekers.”

Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and Director (In charge) of National Legal Aid Services Organization (NLASO), said, “Around 80 percent of local disputes are solved locally through mediation and the rest are brought to the court. If we cannot solve the disputes this way, the backlog of pending cases will increase manifold.” He also mentioned, “Although there is a lack of transparency about ‘traditional arbitration’ in some cases, it can however   be   solved   by  following  community    based   mediation

process, where different representatives of the community will be involved. The Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are playing an important role in making the mediation fairer, and reaching the grassroots.”

Quoting a recent UNDP study, Mohsin Ali, Executive Director of WAVE Foundation, said in his keynote presentation, “Around 3.1 million cases remained pending with the courts for disposal until December 2016, and the number is expected to hit around 5 millions in 2020. The government needs to provide more emphasis on community based mediation to solve the local disputes, which will help decrease the case backlogs.” The conference ended with a vote of thanks from Mr. Ali, Executive Director of WAVE Foundation.