One statistics shows that around 40 percent of Bangladeshi people is deprived of having access to justice. Although the right to legal aid is not a fundamental right according to our constitution, but without having access to justice, the realisation of three other major fundamental rights, i.e. equality before law, equal protection of law and the rule of law, cannot be meaningful. Among others, higher expense is responsible for not having access to justice. Our legal services are not even available in the remote village areas. Ironically, our higher judiciary is only located in the capital and the lower judiciary is also in the district cities. A large number of village people, who live far away from district court area, may have a hundred kilometer long journey just to have a legal advice. Many of them are not aware of a lawyer’s fee for advice. Thus, it causes the poor people not to travel and even many of them are not able to afford their travel cost and fees.
But think, when those remote village people need not travel, rather a group of young lawyers will come to their door to give free legal advice and aid. It sounds bit unusual at least in our context, when we generally believe lawyers are expensive. But many of Bangladeshi village people already have experienced this lucrative service just in front of their door.
Last year, Advocate Shakhawat Shamim along with 15 more young lawyers started this free legal aid campaign in Bangladesh. They have already visited many rural areas of different six districts of Bangladesh. The last camp took place on 26 March the Independence Day at Baghduli village of Pangsha Upazila, Rajbari district.
Shahriar Shajon, one of the team members of this program said, ‘Before starting the campaign in any particular village, the villagers are publicly informed and invited to come with documents. Usually we travel for legal campaign on holidays. Instead of having fun with friends on holidays, we are traveling from Dhaka to one previously selected remote village to listen to the people, to give them right legal advice, and finally to see their satisfied faces.’
Shamim Hossain another lawyer of this program said, ‘People are usually coming with land disputes and family matter.’ This free legal aid camp service is not limited to verbal advice only, they have been distributed their phone numbers for any further advice. The founder and head of this programme, Mr. Shakhawat Shamim, who is currently studying in the UK, believes that the team will visit all parts of Bangladesh, and they will have at least one nominated local lawyer in every district bar to assist full legal support from submitting a plaint to the final verdict.
This program is run by the HTP Foundation. Advocate Asit Kumar Biswas, Treasurer of HTP Foundation said, ‘These young lawyers are traveling by spending their own money. We are running this programme from our commitment to the society. It’s true that any financial support would definitely speed up our function. But even we are ready to continue our journey without any support.’
According to Mr. Shakhawat Shamim, we have a government-led legal aid service programme, but village people hardly have any knowledge about it. We are usually informing about legal aid and how to reach them. As our judiciary has already over burden and it takes a long time to adjudicate litigation, so we are promoting amicable settlement or alternative dispute resolution.
So far the team has enormous support from the local authority wherever they have visited. They usually sit in the local primary school or near village market. Anyone from any part of Bangladesh can invite them to have a day-long legal camp at their villages. Someday you may have a public announcement where you will listen: “Dear inhabitants, a team of lawyers is coming to our village for giving legal advice and support to the villagers!”
The writers are members of the free legal aid camp.