Legal experts and civil society members yesterday called for a stronger legal aid services system for the country's poor people who are often denied access to justice.
The government's legal aid services programme, introduced in 2000, has to be strengthened and expanded through training, motivation in collaboration with the non-government organisations across the country, they said.
The observations came at a discussion on the recent amendments to the Legal Aid Services Act (LASA), 2000, organised by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) at Brac Centre in the capital.
“Justice of the poor faces a big question. Legal aid service is the only arrangement that can help them,” said MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam.
She said MJF had conducted advocacy and training activities for the district, upazila and union parishad legal aid committees in a number of districts.
According to an MJF survey, supported by its partner NGOs, more victims are seeking assistance from the district legal aid committees of the National Legal Aid Services Organization (NLASO) operating under the law ministry.
“In 2012, only 101 victims got legal aid in Munshiganj, whereas the number rose to 221 in 2013 when an NGO helped victims seek aid,” said Ruma Sultana, programme manager of MJF. Similar results came from some other districts, she said.
NLASO Director Syed Aminul Islam said that during 2001 and 2008, the government's legal aid fund utilisation was less than three percent because of shortage of logistics and manpower.
Starting from 2009, the government set up NLASO office and formed district, upazila and union legal aid committees, he said.
While only 9,160 victims were provided legal assistance in 2009, the number increased to 19,493 in 2013, Islam said, adding that with the amendment to LASA, a Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee was formed and a fund created to help the victims.
“Though district legal aid offices are there, at upazila and union level there are only committees, but not any office or manpower,” he said.
He recommended awareness raising among justice seekers and motivating lawyers.
Dhaka University's Associate Professor of law Hafizur Rahman Karzon said the legal aid system was inadequate for the large number of poor of the country.
He recommended expanding legal aid services to the vulnerable people in a more effective way, and emphasised alternative dispute resolution in settling cases and reducing peoples' sufferings they face because of prolonged judicial process.
Khabiruzzaman Bhuiyan, a Supreme Court lawyer, called for training police personnel, saying wrong investigation often led to delayed justice.