Village Court: reformation needed to ensure justice
The government of Bangladesh is trying to strengthen local justice systems in rural areas by establishing close-to-home, low-cost village courts that adjudicated minor disputes between residents. The Village Court is popularly known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) court.
It is constituted under section 5 of the Village Courts Act, 2006 with five members where one Chairman and four members to be nominated, by each of the parties to the dispute. Basically it deals with civil cases includes; family matter, land dispute, Property Crime, marriage and divorce etc.
On the other hand some criminal cases like: theft, theft of cattle, eve teasing, cheating, coalition, mischief, etc. are also solved here. Most of the clients of this court are male between 35 and 65 having primary level of education and level of income is Tk. two thousand to eight thousand. For its lower cost, speedy disposal and known person rendezvous with justice process rural people go to Village Court (VC).
But the satisfaction level of its justice is under below standard due to biasness of the judges, political affiliation, deny of accepting the cases, ignorance to arrange village court and improper remedy which brings the parties to appeal to higher court or complain to police station. The revision of the law in September 2013 has made it more effective with the provision of compromise under pre judgment (revision section 6B).
According to the revised Act, jurisdiction of the village courts for fining a guilty party or the value of the disputed property would be BDT 75,000 (USD 896) instead of the previous limit of BDT 25,000 (USD 298). The revision has, in addition, a built-in mandatory provision of inclusion of a woman member by the parties in forming five members judges panel, given the fact of resolving matters related to the interest of minors and women. But the real experience is different; it exercises physical, mental, economical and other form of punishment.
Law empowers the Chairman, Members of Union Parishad as participants of court but in most of the cases - the judges' panel are elected or nominated by the political parties - even the mandatory provision of including a woman member is not often followed. For this reason, there is a huge possibility for verdicts to be biased. Also manipulation of evidence can change the nature of verdicts.
There are nearly 3.3 million cases pending at formal courts, among which 2.8 million cases are pending in subordinate courts across the country. The formal justice system is thus under tremendous pressure with huge workload and inadequate number of officials and staff to dispose of the cases. This backlog of pending cases is one of the crucial hurdles on way to ensuring justice to the people and good governance as well.
For making true spirit of the Village Court Act, 2006 amended 2013 and to remove the backlog of the cases from formal court an effective Village Court for (ADR) must be ensured. For the fulfilment of speedy and effective judgment in Village Court some necessary reformation and suggestion should get priority without any delay, which are following: It is evident from current scenario of that lack of legal and procedural knowledge and training among the Chairmen and members of the UPs is a major weakness of VC.
It therefore implies that the UP Chairmen, members and secretaries should be properly trained up especially on legal and procedural aspects of village court. It is most necessary to introduce a post of Legal Adviser who will be selected from Learned Advocate for the purpose of helping UP Chairman regarding adjudicating the court matters. In village, there is often occurs a hassle, affray and peace-breaking , if decision goes to powerful parties' opposition due to this reason, most of the time the village court members feels fear , accurate justice become hampered and question of neutrality of judgment has been raised.
In this regard, the government should think proactively about how to deal with the issue. Presently, the UNO is the supervisory authority of the village courts. In addition to UNO, Chief Judicial Magistrate should be involved for monitoring of village court. Moreover, if the UNO monitoring the Village Court every month regularly in the UP office as his routine work then, village court members and officials will be careful and more responsible about their activisms. If they act neutrally, villagers will respect Village Court and in this way public confidence upon Village Court will be achieved.
Moreover, the Village Court is authorized to deal with disputes whose money value is up to Tk. 25,000 (USD 298) instead of the limit it has been seen that most of the case are regarding land suit, divorce and dower are been dealt in village court exceed their pecuniary jurisdiction. If it is transferred to District court, the suit will create backlogs of the cases. It would be more effective and absolute solution if the government establishes Upazilla court in respective Upazillas' territory by appointing two assistant judge / judicial magistrate. The law and circumstance demand that, who need to sit in Village Court should have minimum educational qualification. However, the reality is that in most cases, the village court members' educational qualification is not up to the mark.
Because the Chairmen and members of the UPs are public representatives where there is no automatic way to ensure their educational qualification. Therefore, the government should impose minimum standard educational criteria for the post of UP Chairman Candidates is Degree/Hon's and for the member is HSC/ equivalent. Eventually, the government should take initiatives to create mass awareness about the village court. Chairmen and members of the UPs may play roles by discussing with the people of their respective localities and making them aware about the jurisdiction and relative convenience of resolving disputes locally through the village courts.
The writer is a legal-researcher & social activist