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National Justice Audit: What makes justice a lofty goal in Bangladesh?

  • Published at 11:29 pm August 22nd, 2019
High Court-HC-court
File photo of the High Court Dhaka Tribune

The findings came from the National Justice Audit Bangladesh, a project commissioned by the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs

The justice system in Bangladesh puts great pressure on courts and prisons, leaving a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, even as ordinary citizens remain wary of pursuing justice.

The findings came from the National Justice Audit Bangladesh, a project commissioned by the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. The Justice Audit was implemented by the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) through the Governance and Justice Group (GJG), Justice Mapping Center and the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law from the United States.

A discussion was held over the audit’s findings at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC) on Thursday,.  

The audit covered data from January 1 to December 31, 2016. 

According to the audit, only 13% of people pursued formal justice methods, mostly due to the costs involved and the distance required to travel. A stunning 58% was in favor of going to the local UP chairman, and 19% preferred local shalish.

Surveys found respondents saying they were frustrated with the justice system for three reasons: witness non-appearance, repeated adjournments and quality of police investigation.

How the citizenry and police perceive crime is also drastically different. The audit found that of all the crimes experienced by survey respondents, quarrels or fights consisted 30.14%, whereas police had not investigated a single instance. Another stark contrast is in drugs, which made up 34.1% of all police investigations, but  only 1.18% citizen experiences were recorded .

In 2016, the police had over Tk10,200 crore as budget. In comparison, the budget for all judicial services was Tk622 crore while the prison system had a Tk226 crore budget.

In 2016, the prisons had a capacity of 32,000 but 485,274 people were imprisoned. 60% of the prisoners spent less than six months in prison, 30% of all prisoners were charged with narcotics cases. Of the prisoners, only 19,000 were convicted, among whom 12,000 had sentences less than two years.

Of the total magistrate cases, 54% were pending. 62% of total sessions court cases were also pending. Alarmingly, the Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal, which was set up to expedite relevant cases, had 77% pending. Of the 23% disposed cases, the conviction rate was near zero.

Anisul Huq, minister of law, justice and parliamentary affairs, told the press: “3.5 million cases are too high a number. If this swells into 6.2 million cases over the next decade, people will lose faith in the judicial system.”

Who was involved in the Justice Audit?

The Justice Audit is a collaboration among a number of organizations and people. It was led by The Governance & Justice Group (GJG), which is comprised of: Justice (retd) Johann Kriegler, Dr Hania Farhan, David Morgan, Heather Goldsmith, Marcus Baltzer, Maliha Hussein, Kathryn English, Adam Stapleton, Radha Nair, Farah Alam, Hasanul Musaddek, Fazlul Chowdhury and Kashfiya Nawrin and was further supported by Henrietta Champion de Crespigny. The Bluhm Legal Clinic team was led by Director Dr Tom Geraghty, with students: Farzeen Tariq, Sarah Aagard, Samanta Suheen, Natasha Karamally and Ari Caldwell.

Justice Mapping was led by Eric Cadora with Charles Swartz and their technical team: Bill Shander, Andrey Yelbaev, Tatiana Temple, Alexandra Dubow, and Victor Radovinskiy.

The GIZ unit was led by Munir Uddin Shamim with Morshed Alam, Mahbubur Rahman Nazmi and Rasel Mehedi Parves with Kaiser Ul Islam Khan and Mohammad Shihab Uddin led by Promita Sengupta.

The Justice Audit Forum was set up with representatives from core institutions involved in the justice system: Supreme Court, Bangladesh Police, Department of Narcotics Control, Solicitor Wing (prosecution), National Legal Aid Services Organization, Bar Council, Department for Social Services (Child Detention Centres and Probation), Prisons Directorate, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Local Government, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, and Department of Women Affairs.