Village courts providing justice in Bangladesh

Village courts providing justice in Bangladesh

Abdullah said that what he did in the quarrel was wrong and I am honoured that he apologised.

Mostafa Khatun

CONTEXT

Village courts, comprising a panel of five persons (from the local government and civilians), deliver jury trials for petty disputes. The EU, in partnership with UNDP, is supporting the work of over 350 of these alternative courts across Bangladesh helping people to get access to justice in a transparent and timely manner.

OBJECTIVES

  • To empower and enable the poor, women and vulnerable groups to access a fair and effective justice system.
  • To activate village courts so that disputes may be resolved in an expeditious, transparent and affordable manner.

RESULTS

  • Partnership between the EU and UNDP has ensured that Village Courts are working in 351 Union Councils.
  • The average time to resolve a complaint in a Village Court is 28 days compared to 5 years in the formal legal sector.
  • A total of 128 000 individuals and their families have accessed justice through the Village Courts since 2010.
  • €1.6 million has been recovered as compensation since 2010 and been provided to victims.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • Village courts, comprising a panel of five persons (local government and villagers), deliver jury trials for petty disputes.
  • In the next phase of the project, the EU will help the government introduce 1 000 additional Village Courts.

PARTNERS

TESTIMONY

Shaking hands thanks to the village court

Mostafa Khatun is 50, a housewife with five sons, four daughters and two grandchildren. A dispute was sparked one day when her neighbour, Abdullah, her husband’s cousin, cut down a bamboo tree near their house, destroying a number of mahogany saplings that Mostafa had been growing.

The saplings were purchased 2 years before for 15 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT) each with the intention of selling them once they had grown. These trees were an investment and were going to provide supplementary income to the household, as each tree could fetch €200 (BDT 20 000) within 20 years.

Mostafa ran outside to see what was happening. Her husband and children were not at home but there was a heated exchange with her neighbours, during which Abdullah and his sons destroyed 10 more saplings. They attacked Mostafa. "It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to think, but afterwards I was in a lot of pain and was afraid", Mostafa recalled.

Her husband took her to the dispensary where she received medication for her injuries at a cost of €22 (BDT 2 200). He then went to the village elders to lodge a complaint. When the defendant refused to respond to the elders request , Mostafa’s husband reported the matter to the police station.

The police referred the case to the district court, 25 km away. Two years and 15 visits later, there was still no conclusion to the case. Finally, the district court Magistrate recommended that the case be referred to the village court.The village court registered the case and a panel was formed comprising of representatives from both parties. The jury heard the details with evidence and declared that the defendant was guilty. A €50 (BDT 4 920) fine was imposed as compensation for the destroyed saplings and for the medical expenses from Mostafa’s injuries.

The defendant paid the compensation in accordance with the judgment within 3 months. Mostafa and her husband used these funds to contribute to their children’s education. They believe that the village court’s decision was a fair one and prefer it to the district court because it is closer, faster and less expensive."My cousin said that what he did in the quarrel was wrong and I am honoured that he apologised", said Mostafa's husband. Abdullah, the defendant believed that the village court provided "proper justice".