Bangladesh: Government Legal Aid Brings Justice to the Poor

In June 2016, NCSC conducted its annual review of District Legal Aid Committees in pilot districts supported under the USAID Justice for All Program. The first pilot districts were selected in June 2013, and NCSC currently provides technical assistance and awareness activities in 13 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts. As of June 2016, more than 20,000 legal aid recipients have cases pending before the courts in the 13 pilot districts. Pilot districts now receive an average of 1,088 new legal aid cases per month, an 85% increase in monthly case intake since inception. This increase is a result of greater awareness of legal aid services for the poor across Bangladesh.

With USAID and NCSC support, District Legal Aid Offices have improved their capacity to manage legal aid cases and facilitate access to justice for the poor. In addition, the program has enabled the activation of legal aid committees at the grassroots level to serve as referral hubs for citizens in need of legal assistance. Committees have been activated in 67 Upazilas and 601 Union Parishads, and more than 22,000 local government members have been oriented to inform citizens about legal aid and refer them to the District Legal Aid Office to resolve their disputes.

NCSC has also built the capacity of District Legal Aid Offices to become more effective in monitoring the quality of services provided by legal aid lawyers, which has increased citizen satisfaction with the judicial process. Public opinion polling conducted in April and May confirmed that awareness of government legal aid services is increasing among target communities. More than 80% of users reported satisfaction with the services obtained and the responsiveness of District Legal Aid Officers, although they expressed concerns about the slowness of the judicial process. Users also reported a high likelihood of re-use of both government legal aid services and the formal justice system to resolve their disputes.

The Justice for All Program is a five-year initiative to improve access to justice and strengthen the formal justice sector and government legal aid services, implemented by NCSC and funded by USAID. For more information on USAID’s Justice for All Program, please visit www.justice-bd.org.