Celebrating Challenge and Change: Community Legal Services in Bangladesh

The Community Legal Services (CLS) Programme in Bangladesh, organised an event, titled ‘Celebrating Challenge and Change: Community Legal Services in Bangladesh’ on 21 March 2017. The daylong event was held at the British Council Auditorium, Dhaka University campus office, Fuller Road in the capital to highlight the importance, achievements and challenges of CLS Programme. At the conference, CLS released two publications: the Quality Standards Handbook and a series of 13 Good Practice reports for legal services based on the BEACON categories. The CLS Programme is implemented by Maxwell Stamp PLC and the British Council with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (UK) and funding from UKaid.

Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Hon’ble Speaker of the Parliament was present as the Chief Guest. David Ashley, Acting High Commissioner to Bangladesh, British High Commission was present as the Special guest. Joel Harding, Governance Team Leader of DFID Bangladesh; Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Chief Executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA); Sara Hossain, Honorary Executive Director, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST); Barbara Wickham, Director, British Council Bangladesh; Jerome Sayre, Team Leader, CLS Programme, and Christine Forrester, Capacity Building Component Lead, CLS Programme and developer of the CLS Quality Standards, participated in the event as speakers.

In her welcome speech, Barbara Wickham, Director, British Council Bangladesh said, “Since its inception, CLS has been focusing on reaching women and girls, strengthening the services of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), and advocating for laws and policy reform.  CLS  strives   to   support   grants  partners through   intensive    capacity

building so that partners can provide quality legal services to the poor and marginal people, especially women and girls. We expect and believe that government, NGOs and other stakeholders will continue their support to provide legal services to poor and marginalised.”

In his remarks, Jerome Sayre, Team Leader, CLS Programme, highlighted achievements since 2012 – an additional 16% of the country and estimated 13.9 million more people now have access to justice through legal services. End line survey data after four years of field activities has shown dramatic increases in awareness of legal rights for  women

including dowry (17% to 87%), divorce (15% to 89%) and maintenance payments (9% to 91%). Also significant, he said, were the large increases in satisfaction among women seeking justice as they moved away from family and traditional Salish to modern mediation by community members assisted by NGO partners.

CLS Capacity Building Lead Christine Forrester emphasised the important role of the Quality Standards in increasing the satisfaction of justice seekers. The Quality Standards concept, she said, has been extensively used by organisations in the UK to assure quality services to clients – and is being used in Bangladesh for the first time with CLS NGO partners. She reported that on most standards, over 80% of CLS partner organisations made satisfactory improvements.

During the second half of the conference, a number of distinguished guests including eminent lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain; Meghna Guhathakurata, Member, National Human Rights Commission; Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB); Professor Dr. Sumaiya Khair, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka handed over BEACONS Award to CLS partner organisations.

CLS partner organisations were recognised for their achievements in the 11 defined BEACON categories which include Responsive client services, Effective human resources for service delivery, Partnership with local justice providers and other stakeholders, Partnership with other NGOs in consortium, Influencing Policy change, Campaigning and advocacy, Working with indigenous communities in the plain lands and Chittagong Hill Tracts, Working in hard to reach areas, Community mobilisation for access to justice, Innovation in service delivery, and Learning organisation.

The objective of CLS Programme is to provide grants to eligible NGOs to support the delivery of community legal services and provide greater access to justice to poor, marginalised and socially excluded communities in Bangladesh with specific focus on women and girls. CLS was launched in August 2012 and will end in July 2017.