The government of Bangladesh is trying to strengthen 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 popularly known as 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 to be nominated, by each of the parties to the dispute. Basically it deals with civil cases - family matter, land dispute, property crime, marriage and divorce, etc.On the other hand, some criminal cases like theft, cattle theft, eve teasing, cheating, coalition, mischief, etc. are also solved here. Most of the clients of this court are males aged 35 to 65 having primary level education and income level of tk two thousand to eight thousand. For its low cost, speedy disposal and known persons dealing the justice process, rural people go to Village Court (VC).
But the satisfaction level of its justice is below standard due to biasness of the judges, political affiliation, denying in accepting cases, ignorance in village court and improper remedy which brings the parties to appeal to higher court or complain in police station. The revision of the law in September 2013 has 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 BDT 75,000 (USD 896) instead of the previous limit of BDT 25,000 (USD 298). The revision has, in addition, a built-in mandatory provision of inclusion of a woman member by the parties in forming five members judges panel, given the fact of resolving matters related to the interest of minors and women. But the real experience is different as it exercises physical, mental, economical and other forms of punishment.
On the other hand, law empowers the Chairman, Members of Union Parishad as participant of the court but in most of the cases, the judges’ panel are elected or nominated by the political parties, even the mandatory provision of including a woman member is not followed. For this reason, there is a greater chance to have bias, evidence contamination and justice manipulation. On the other sense, there are nearly 3.3 million cases pending in formal court among which 2.8 million cases are in subordinate courts across the country. The formal justice system is thus under tremendous pressure with a huge workload and inadequate number of officials and staff to dispose of the cases. This backlog of pending cases is one of the crucial hurdles to ensuring justice and good governance to the people.
For making true spirit of the Village Court Act, 2006 amended 2013 and to remove the backlog of the cases from formal court an effective Village Court for (ADR) must be ensured. For the fulfillment of speedy and effective judgment in Village Court some necessary reformation suggestion should get priority without any delay, which are following: It is evident from current scenario that lack of legal and procedural knowledge and training among the Chairmen and members of the UPs is a major weakness of VC.
It therefore implies that the UP Chairmen, members and secretaries should be properly trained up especially on legal and procedural aspects of village court. It is most necessary to introduce a post of Legal Adviser who will be selected from Learned Advocate for the purpose of helping UP Chairman regarding adjudicating the court matters. In Village, there often occurs hassles and peace-breakings if decision goes to powerful parties’ opposition, due to this reason most of the time the village court members feels fear, accurate justice become hampered and arising question of neutrality of judgment.In this regard, the government should think proactively about how to deal with the issue. Presently, the UNO is the supervisory authority of the village courts. In addition to UNO, Chief Judicial Magistrate should be involved for monitoring of Village Court. Moreover, if the UNO monitors the Village Court every month regularly in the UP office as his routine work then, village court members and officials will be careful and more responsible about their activities. If they act neutrally, villagers will respect Village Court and in this way public confidence upon Village Court will be achieved.
Moreover, the Village Court is authorized to deal with disputes whose money value is up to Tk. 25,000 (USD 298) instead of the limit it has been seen that most of the case are regarding land suit, divorce and dower in village court which exceed their pecuniary jurisdiction. If it is transferred to district court, the suit will create backlogs of cases. It would be more effective in getting absolute solution if the government establishes Upazilla Court in respective Upazillas by appointing two Assistant Judges / Judicial Magistrates. The law and circumstance demand that, those who sit in Village Court should have minimum educational qualification. However, the reality is that in most cases, the village court members’ educational qualification is not up to the mark.
Because the Chairmen and members of the UPs are public representatives where there is no automatic way to ensure their educational qualification. Therefore, the government should impose minimum standard educational criteria for the post of UP Chairman Candidates as Degree/Honours and for the member as HSC equivalent. Eventually, the government should take initiatives to create mass awareness about the village court. Chairmen and members of the UPs may play role by discussing with the people of their respective localities and making them aware about the jurisdiction and relative convenience of resolving disputes locally through the village courts.
Rasel Rafi, LL.B, LL.M, BU, Charter-president,
Britannia University Law Club, Apprentice Lawyer, Cumilla Judge Court