Street law in medical negligence: Making tort law easy for the people
Street Law is a method of teaching practical law to the general public through interactive methods. This year throughout February, iProbono (Bangladesh) hosted a series of virtual street law workshops to spread awareness on the legal aspects of medical negligence in Bangladesh. This was the first time that street law sessions were conducted on virtual platforms in Bangladesh. Over a hundred university students and non-legal professionals attended the four-session workshop series to learn about health rights, violations, and remedies available in Bangladesh. The workshops were conducted in Bangla.
Medical negligence is a grave social and legal challenge for Bangladesh, yet this is not as widely discussed as other concerns. Although we often see news where medical professionals and institutions showing a lack of care in their treatment of patients, medical negligence is not a term people would easily recognise, let alone know it to be a punishable offense. The prevalent ambiguities, misconceptions, questions, and contradictory medical opinions pose severe barriers to realising health rights in Bangladesh. To address this challenge, iProbono (Bangladesh) decided to conduct a series of workshops on these issues. iProbono took a baseline audience feedback to design the sessions, where potential participants expressed their interest in learning more about the law of torts, its application in the health sector, and available remedies in Bangladesh. Because the street law sessions were designed to cater to these demands, the participants were deeply engaged in the conversations.
Every session had an ice-breaking part, a brainstorming part and short lectures with videos, images, diagrams, etc.; after that, there were some exercises and a Q&A, allowing participants to clarify any specific queries/ confusions they might have had. It needs to be mentioned that the first session introduced negligence as a wrong, and later sessions elaborated on medical negligence and its specific dimensions.The discussions used examples from real-life negligence cases reported in the newspapers as well as supreme court cases so that the participants could easily relate to the discussions.
The series started with a discussion on torts, where many participants wanted to know whether tort was a public or a private wrong. To help learners understand, the street lawyers used role-plays on unlawful confinement and smoking in public places as examples of different types of tortious wrongs. Another common question the participants raised was how to differentiate between criminal fraud and tort. The answer given was that a single act can be both tort and criminal fraud. Here the determination is depended on one's perspective. Different types of remedies could be applied for in different fora for a single incident. As a result, we can usually obtain separate remedies for financial and non-financial losses in the same case.
One point that intrigued the audience was how unintentional tort is related to negligence. In initiating the discussion, negligence was defined as failing to pay attention as much as one should. This can be unintentional because it always happens due to a lack of intent. No incident can be immediately termed as crime or tort unless the guilty intention or the lack of it, is established. Street Lawyers used small group exercises (SGE) to explain the issue through portraying various ambiguities and conceptual misunderstandings surrounding tort and crime.
The goal of this street law workshop was not to encourage more litigation but to raise public awareness about rights and how to access the justice administration system. As such, the last two sessions introduced the audience to various remedial financial measures like compensation and specific performance in medical negligence cases. The sessions also informed the audience about the activities of organisations like iProbono, BLAST, ASK in facilitating the enforcement of rights. The sessions were provided various points of contact for obtaining legal advice as well as free legal aid in various ways.
The 'Street Law Project' may be the most efficient way to educate the common people in our country about their rights and to educate them about tort law. This is because 'Street Law' delivers legal education practically and virtually in accordance with the common people's understanding. The primary objective of this year's Street Law Project was to educate the people on the remedies available for tort offenses, particularly medical negligence.
The writer is a final year law student, Khulna University.