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Access to justice for all remains elusive

Published : Sunday, 19 May, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 390

Access to justice for all remains elusive

Access to justice for all remains elusive

Access to justice is an essential human right that continues to elude a substantial amount of the population, in particular individuals who are economically disadvantaged and socially excluded. Socioeconomic inequalities in Bangladesh further compound this concern, highlighting the critical nature of legal aid in guaranteeing equitable treatment and the ability of every citizen to assert their rights within the judicial system. Before the implementation of the Legal Aid Act in 2000, the poor, disadvantaged groups, and women were particularly at risk of exploitation and injustice in Bangladesh, as access to justice was predominantly limited to those who could afford legal services. By providing free legal aid and representation to those who were unable to pay for it, promoting equality before the law, and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups, the Legal Aid Act looked to make right these disparities.

Legal aid includes the provision of paid or no-expense legal aid to individuals who are unable to afford access to justice or legal representation. Alternative dispute resolution, legal counsel, court representation, and mediation are all components of this support. The primary aim is to guarantee equitable access to justice for all individuals, regardless of their economic standing. The Legal Aid Act of Bangladesh aims to accomplish this by guaranteeing universal access to justice, advancing equality before the law, and placing its efforts on vulnerable populations, including women, children, and minority groups. Legal aid services that may be rendered are delineated in the Act. Such services cover aid with legal documentation, court representation, and legal counsel.
Under Article 27 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, which states that all citizens are identical before the law and entitled to equal protection, legal aid has been recognized as a fundamental right. Legal aid services for the populace are substantially facilitated by the government, in collaboration with numerous NGOs and civil society organizations. In 2000, Bangladesh implemented the Legal Aid Services Act, which regulated the delivery of legal aid and created the National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO) with the responsibility of coordinating and supervising legal aid operations throughout the nation. The district-level committees that operate NLASO are tasked with the responsibility of identifying eligible beneficiaries and facilitating the provision of legal aid services.

The National Legal Aid Organisation, established under Section 3 of the Legal Aid Services Act of 2000, is tasked with the organization and oversight of the Acts effective operation. According to Section 5, the National Management Board is entrusted with the management and administration of the National Legal Aid Organisation. Its primary responsibility is to ensure that impoverished litigants have access to legal aid and to oversee the District Committees operations and effectiveness. The primary operating bodies tasked with delivering legal aid to impoverished litigants by the guidelines and tenets established by the National Legal Aid Organisation are the district committees.

By the provisions of the Act, legal aid is accessible to litigants who demonstrate financial incapacity and poverty, which is defined as an annual average income of no more than Tk 4000. Legal aid applications should be addressed to the Board or the District Committee. In the case of matters before the Supreme Court, submission should be directed to the Chairman of the National Legal Aid Organisation.

The Legal Aid Act delineates several pivotal provisions to accomplish its goals. Such initiatives encompass the formation of legal aid committees tasked with the coordination and execution of legal aid programs and services at the district, upazila (sub-district), and national levels. The Act establishes the prerequisites for legal aid eligibility, giving precedence to individuals who are unable to afford legal representation. Additionally, it confers authority upon the government to designate legal aid officers, who are tasked with the provision of legal aid services to those who qualify. Legal aid applications must be submitted to the National Board of Legal Aid or the District Legal Aid Committee as applicable. The applicant has sixty days from the date of denial by the District Committee to file an appeal with the National Legal Aid Board. The application process is delineated in the Legal Aid Rules of 2000, which mandate that candidates submit a white paper containing their complete name, address, and the rationale behind their application.

Effective legal aid delivery in Bangladesh encounters several obstacles, despite the existence of well-established legal frameworks. These challenges are made up of insufficient funding, bureaucratic delays, a dearth of qualified legal personnel (especially in remote regions), and a lack of public awareness. These challenges impede the ability of those with disadvantages to obtain justice, underlining the necessity for increased funding and efficient procedures to guarantee fair distribution of legal aid on a national scale.
In Bangladesh, efforts are being made by stakeholders to improve access to justice via partnerships, awareness campaigns, capacity development, and service expansion. These endeavours empower individuals to seek assistance, educate the public about their legal rights, and enhance the skills of legal professionals to improve the quality and efficiency of services.

In Bangladesh, initiatives to reduce geographic gaps in legal aid involve the implementation of mobile clinics, social centres, and virtual platforms to extend services to rural regions. The private sector, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society must collaborate to effectively reach disadvantaged populations, increase resources, foster innovation, and fortify the legal aid ecosystem.

Legal aid in Bangladesh is of paramount importance in safeguarding human rights, promoting social justice, and maintaining the integrity of the legal system. Despite challenges, persistent efforts by governmental entities, members of civil society, and legal experts strive to augment the availability of legal assistance. Bangladesh is committed to growing a justice system that is more inclusive and equitable through the implementation of strategies such as service expansion, systemic issue resolution, and collaborative efforts. These initiatives cover the promotion of knowledge, the development of capabilities, and the guarantee of legal recourse for disadvantaged people. Using efficient legal aid provisions, Bangladeshs efforts enable every citizen to exercise their rights and make significant societal contributions using constant commitment and ingenuity.

The writer is a  student, Department of Law and Human Rights, University of Asia Pacific

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