Quest for Justice for the Poor People | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 27, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 27, 2019

Book Review

Quest for Justice for the Poor People

Access to justice is recognised as one of the fundamental tenets of rule of law, democracy and human rights. Given the growing dissatisfaction of people with both the process and outcome of justice delivery system, alternative dispute resolution is increasingly recognised as one of the instrumentalities to facilitate access to justice. In particular, poor people who are often denied access to justice due to their poverty need alternative dispute resolution more desperately than others. 

The book under review has been written by Fazlul Haque, an eminent human rights activist and founder of the Madaripur Legal Aid Association which is located in Madaripur district of Bangladesh. The book contains a narration of the history of establishment of Madaripur Legal Aid Association, a pioneer human rights NGO in Bangladesh which developed a model of Alternative Dispute Resolution different from traditional dispute resolution. However, the essence of the book is the personal account of the author’s journey of taking justice system at the door steps of the common people. The book asserts that access to justice cannot be ensured only through the prevailing justice system in Bangladesh, but informal justice also has many weaknesses and shortcomings. The book notes that the traditional shalish system is deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions of Bangladesh but it suffers from paternalistic approach and lack of neutrality. It often imposes punishments contrary to existing laws and justice delivery system. Madaripur Legal Aid Association has re-modelled and modernised the traditional shalish system by addressing its biases and gender-discrimination. This modernised version of the shalish is conducted by trained mediators within the framework of our legal system. It is demonstrated in the book that access to justice of disadvantaged people, particularly women and children, increased in through their participation in this system.

The book also describes how the alternative dispute resolution system developed by MLLA has strengthened the state sponsored legal aid programmes. The Madaripur Legal Aid Association has taken steps to activate the Village Courts established under the Village Court Act 2006. The re-modelled shalish system of MLLA has great potential to empower the disputant parties as they have considerably more autonomy in the process of mediation and more control in the outcome of the process than they would be in an adjudication process. The MLLA model of shalish has been replicated in some other countries. It is evident that a legalistic and formalistic approach of litigation emphasises on legal rights of the parties, which are usually determined by a win-lose outcome. But the MLLA’s modernised shalish system not only brings about to the resolution of the dispute, but also attains peace and healing, which is important for the preservation of future relationship between the parties and for creating mutual understanding and trust. This achieves valuable goal of social cohesion. In this way, mediated solution tends to be integrative, accommodative and durable.   

The book is written in Bengali and offers a comprehensive account of development of ADR system developed by MLLA that is used outside of the court. Although the book has been written in an autobiographical style, the richness of its content makes it informative and readable. This excellent book will undoubtedly be of great interest to law students, human rights activists and academics.

The writer is a Professor of Law, University of Chittagong.

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