The government should provide legal aid to all workers, irrespective of their income, free of cost as many labourers are deprived of getting constitutional rights due to financial problems, said the chairman of a labour court.
A worker, who earns below Tk 50,000 a year, is now entitled to legal assistance from the government for free, said Mia Md Sharif Hossain, the chairman of Labour Court-1 in Dhaka.
“Many garment workers are receiving wages above the limit but they are still unable to afford the legal fees. It's not logical,” he said at a meeting in Dhaka yesterday.
“All workers will be able to get justice if the government provides legal assistance free of charge,” Hossain added.
The National Legal Aid Services Organisation or NLASO, a statutory body working under the law ministry, organised the meeting to give an overview of the legal aid cell that was launched in May last year.
The government should provide lawyers' fees to handle labour-related cases by fixing a rate, Hossain added. “Otherwise, lawyers may not be interested in working on the cases.”
Syed Aminul Islam, a joint secretary of the law ministry and director of NLASO, said: “We are working on a draft policy so that all workers receive legal assistance for free.”
Legal aid is the assistance given to people otherwise unable to afford legal representation or have access to court. “It is neither charity nor mercy; it is the right of the poor and underprivileged section of society.”
Despite such provisions, many are deprived of their constitutional right to access justice due to poverty.
Currently, the legal aid cell is providing assistance to workers with panel lawyers under government funds, said Islam. The cell is run by NLASO in association with Dhaka District Legal Aid Committee and UNDP.
From May last year to January, the legal aid cell has provided legal counselling to 145 people, filed 17 cases and settled 2 cases.
In addition, individuals receiving old age allowance, distressed mother holding a vulnerable group development card, victims of trafficking and acid throwing, insolvent widows, abandoned or distressed women, disabled persons, and poor detainees can enjoy the free legal services.
The government has established a permanent legal aid office in every district to ensure access to justice for the poor and disadvantaged.
The legal aid fees structure has long been identified as a significant barrier to accessing legal aid. It was a criticism from the lawyers' community that the lawyers' fee is very poor in legal aid cases.
Islam, also a former labour court chairman, said the main challenge of the judiciary system is to ensure quality services to the poor by overcoming malpractices by a section of lawyers.
So, the government plans to strengthen monitoring the activities of the panel lawyers, he said.
Ruhul Amin, general secretary of Bangladesh Shramik Shanghati Federation, urged the government to provide incentives to the judge and lawyers so that they resolve the cases quickly.