The barriers to access to justice is a denial of fundamental rights ensured to the citizens of Bangladesh. Preamble of the Constitution provides that the citizens of Bangladesh are entitled to a “society, free from exploitation a society in which the rule of law …. equality and justice .… will be secured for all citizens”. The spirit of equality, social justice and a society free from exploitation signifies that indigent litigants will have equal access to justice like any other litigants. Thus, the concept of legal aid is fundamental to establish the rule of law as well as a crucial element to access to justice. To ensure quality justice and a sustainable legal aid, BRAC in collaboration with National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO) organised a seminar titled “Ensuring access to justice for the poor and marginalized: Role of NLASO and BRAC” on 1 April 2018 at BRAC Centre, Dhaka. The objective of the seminar was to assess the present condition of state and Non-state led legal aid services, how effective these are and to come up with ways forward in overcoming the challenges. Emphasis was put on developing a referral mechanism between the government and NGOs, building capacity of penal lawyers including court officers and the overall scope for NGO-government collaboration.
Mr. Md. Zafrul Hasan, Director (Senior District Judge), National Legal Aid Services Organisation (NLASO) graced the seminar as chief guest. Mr. S. Mohammad Ali, Deputy Solicitor (Criminal), Law and Justice Division of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; and Barrister Sajeda Farisa Kabir, Deputy Director, Human Rights and Legal Aid (HRLS) Programme, BRAC, were present as the special guests. Mr. KAM Morshed, Director, Advocacy, Technology and Partnership, BRAC facilitated the seminar as a moderator. The participants of the seminar included District Legal Aid Officers (Senior Assistant Judge), NLASO officials, official from the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, BRAC field level legal aid officials and penal lawyers. During the seminar, Ms. Kabir delivered a presentation highlighting BRAC’s field-level legal aid initiatives as the largest NGO-led legal aid programme in the world, while Mr. Mohammad Al-Amin Madbor, Deputy Director, NLASO presented on NLASO legal aid activities and their future plan. The NLASO Director Mr. Hasan said, ‘A close collaboration should be established among all the initiatives by government and NGOs that can ensure effective coverage of legal aid services with special focus on poor and marginalised people across the country.’
The participants discussed elaborately how the existing challenges can be addressed. The following recommendations could be drawn from the discussion - coordinated efforts are needed by the legal aid service providing organisations to bring more effectiveness and innovation, developing a referral mechanism between government and legal aid providing NGOs, building capacity of penal government and NGO-appointed panel lawyers, employing panel lawyers well-versed in human rights and dedicated to the legal aid services to the poor and marginalised, and raise awareness of the people so that they seek legal aid.
The event was covered by Muhammad Mahdy Hassan, Policy Analyst (Human Rights & Governance), BRAC.