Bangladesh: Legal Aid Makes Access to Justice a Reality

     

Through the USAID Justice for All Program, NCSC is supporting the Ministry of Law and the judiciary of Bangladesh in fulfilling the constitutional promise of Equal Access to Justice for All by strengthening government-funded legal aid services for the poor. Official data on legal aid applications for calendar years 2012-2016 shows that more citizens are accessing legal aid services annually. In the thirteen pilot Districts supported by NCSC through the USAID Justice for All Program, demand for legal aid services has increased by 81% since program inception. In 2016, a total of 12,793 citizens applied for legal aid services, of which 98% of applications were granted.

Defendants in criminal cases represented 70% of legal aid recipients. Closer collaboration between jail administrators and the District Legal Aid Committees is addressing legal representation gaps that have resulted in extended pre-trial detention and detention without hearing for indigent defendants. Jail referrals to legal aid services have increased by 27% between 2015 and 2016. In JFA’s initial pilot Districts in Dhaka, Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Khulna, where a fifth of Bangladesh’s population is located, jail referrals have tripled between 2014 and 2016.

JFA assistance has enabled the government legal aid program to reach deep into communities by educating citizens about legal aid services and activating local-level committees. As of December 2016, 64% of local-level committees had been activated with a total of 24,024 local committee members oriented on legal aid services, eligibility criteria, and basic awareness and referral mechanisms. Increased demand for legal aid also resulted from the intensive legal literacy campaign that has held 6,995 awareness and sensitization events attended by more than 537,000 citizens since 2013.

NCSC has been implementing the Justice for All Program, a five-year initiative to improve access to justice and strengthen the formal justice sector and government legal aid services, under a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Agency for International Development since October 2012. For more information on USAID’s Justice for All Program, please visit www.justice-bd.org.