Restorative justice in Bangladesh context

07 November 2021
Restorative justice in Bangladesh context

Taimur Alam Khondaker :
As of now, a huge backlog of around 2.3 million cases is pending with the courts across the country including the Appellate Division and High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Disposing of these cases is a hard job for the judiciary with only seven judges for the Appellate Division, 97 judges for the High Court Division and around 1,600 judges for the lower courts across the country. This could have been avoided if restorative justice processes were being implemented in the country. In order to get rid of the situation activating village courts could be a very effective option as a form of restorative justice. Victimology and restorative justice can be an innovative movement in the field of criminology.
At present, two types of local government adjudication bodies are legally authorized to deliver restorative justice: Village Courts within the limits of union parishad and Dispute Conciliation Boards within the limits of paurashava. Areas covered by city corporations and cantonment boards are outside the purview of local government adjudication. The list of offences currently subject to the jurisdiction of Village Courts and Dispute Conciliation Boards is unreasonably short. Moreover, the choice of offences reflects no rational basis. It contains several cognizable offences, some of which are of a serious nature, but fails to contain many noncognizable petty offences.
The village court system has been introduced in order to accelerate the justice system by correcting the Village Courts Ordinance, 1976. The basic legal framework for the 'Village Courts' is the Village Courts Act, 2006 (Act No. XIX of 2006). The government of Bangladesh has passed the Village Court Act 2006 which is amended in September 2013 that empowers Union Parishads to resolve disputes that fall under the jurisdiction of the Village Court Act in an attempt to devolve justice down to the community level. A Village Court can deal with both criminal cases and civil disputes. The Village Courts Act, 2006 contains a schedule with two parts, which specifies the nature of cases and disputes a Village Court can deal with. As the chairmen and members of the union parishads are elected by the local people, they have greater accountability to them as the chiefs of the informal Shalish procedures.
People prefer village court for various reasons such as lower distance, easy to access to the justice, familiarity with village court members and speedy disposal. But less than 43.33% go to the village court for its easiness to access to the local justice. Ensuring access to justice is the main prerequisite of good governance. An accountable and efficient justice sector promotes the rule of law and enhances human rights; contributes to the rise of public trust and confidence in justice system which strengthens good governance. It is revealed by research and media reports that the formal justice sector is in tremendous pressure with much workload, inadequate number of officials and staffs to dispose the cases.
This anomaly needs to be rectified. Further, section 16 of the Village Courts Act, 2006 as well as section 5(2) of the Dispute Conciliation (Municipal Areas) Board Act, 2004 allow transfer of cases from local government adjudication bodies to the formal criminal courts for the 'interests of justice'. Any such transfer of a case wherein a child is accused can cause double trouble to the accused and thus jeopardize the interests of children. Another area of concern is linking of offences in a case. The Dispute Conciliation (Municipal Areas) Board Act of 2004 expressly provides that if an offence amenable to the jurisdiction of the board is committed along with another offence not amenable to its jurisdiction and joint trial becomes necessary, the board shall not exercise its jurisdiction to try the offence.
The UP chairman, secretary and UP members should have a considerable level of education which is favorable in dispensing justice. The UP officials have the lack of training, lack of the machinery, and more than anything else, for lack of the understanding of what it means to make a full and complete record. The record management of the village courts is awfully poor.
Thus, restorative justice has been considered as an umbrella concept and social movement all over the world. In Bangladesh, the formal justice system is under tremendous pressure for huge caseloads and vastly overstretched human resources as the backlog of cases at present stands at nearly half a million. For its lower cost, speedy disposal and known person come together with justice process, rural people go to Village Court. But the satisfaction level of its justice is under below standard which brings the parties to appeal to higher court or complain to police station. Consequently, the risk factors of bellow standard satisfaction are biasness of the judges; deny of accepting cases, absence of opposite party, contamination of evidence, etc.
(The writer is columnist and advocate, Appellate Division).

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