Our village courts need to be reformed top to bottom
The government is trying to strengthen the 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 also known as the 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 are to be nominated by each of the parties to the dispute. Basically, it deals with civil cases includes -- family matters, land disputes, property crime, marriage and divorce, etc.
On the other hand, criminal cases like theft, eve-teasing, cheating, mischief, etc are also solved in these courts. Most of the clients in such courts are male, aged between 35 and 65, having primary levels of education.
But there is immense bias in judges within this system, mostly due to political affiliations. The revision of the law in September 2013 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 Tk75,000 instead of the previous limit of Tk25,000. The revision has, in addition, a built-in mandatory provision of inclusion for a female member by the parties in forming its five-member panel of judges, in resolving matters related to the interest of minors and women. But the real experience is vastly different -- as it is often excruciatingly bureaucratic and slow process.
The law empowers the chairman and members of the union parishad as participants of the court, but in most cases, the judges’ panel is elected or nominated by the political parties, in a way where, despite the mandatory provision of including a female member, they are not followed. For this reason, there is a greater chance of bias.
There are nearly 3.3 million cases that are pending in formal court, among which 2.8 million cases are pending in subordinate courts across the country. As a result, the formal justice system is under tremendous pressure, and the inadequate number of officials and staff to dispose of the cases does not help. This backlog of pending cases is one of the main hurdles on the way to ensuring justice to the people and good governance in general.
Needless to say, the UP chairmen, members, and secretaries should be properly trained especially on legal and procedural aspects of village court in order to overcome this issue. It is of the utmost importance that the post of legal adviser, who would be selected from learned advocate for the purpose of helping UP chairman regarding adjudicating the court matters, be introduced.
In this regard, the government should think pro-actively about how to deal with the issue. Presently, the UNO is the supervisory authority in village courts. In addition to the UNO, a chief judicial magistrate should be involved in the monitoring of the village courts.
Moreover, if the UNO is monitoring the village courts every month regularly in the UP office as his routine work, the village court members and officials will be careful and more responsible about their activity.
The government should impose a standard educational criterion for the post of UP chairman. That way, eventually, the government can take certain steps to create mass awareness about exactly all that is wrong within our village court system.
Rasel Rafi is a legal researcher and social activist.