Scope of Government legal aid program
Articles 27 and 31 of Bangladesh Constitution ensure basic rights and right to legal protection of all citizens of Bangladesh. Apart from any exception the dormant meaning of these Articles is that helpless and poor people have the right to have legal support or protection as same as rich and well-off ones. It is well known to all these helpless and poor i.e. marginal people usually are not be able to appoint lawyers to conduct their cases in courts for establishing their genuine right due to the reasons, including want of money, social insecurity and other related causes. The litigants coming from marginal section of the society can not afford to represent them effectively. Right to be represented by a lawyer is fundamentally important because of the technicality of law and processual intricacies of justice delivery system.
In this connection it is becomes obvious that effective legal aid program under the auspicious of the government is an important element for access to justice. Although it is a matter of regret but an undeniable fact that in to-days' era of degradation of values, wretched and helpless justice seekers can not expect to get desired legal relief to their legal problems without spending huge amount of money. To remedy the situation Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad enacted National Legal Aid Services Act (LASA) 2000 to materialize the constitutionally guaranteed right to protection of law of all and sundry. Subsequently 19 member National Legal Aid Services Organization was constituted with Law and Justice Minister as its Chair through government gazette notification to implement the goals of LASA. In LASA there is a provision of 19 members District Legal Aid Committee (DLAC) with concerned District Judges in the Chair. All core government officers are there in the DLAC as its members. A panel of lawyers with minimum five years experience of conducting cases in courts is formed. Government in its ability provides fees to panel lawyers for conducting legal aid cases.
Till date, the Government Legal Aid program is concerned with filing, appearing and conducting cases by panel lawyers. It is not to say that in the process of only providing aid to conducting cases the marginal people. They are the targeted legal aid seekers. Scrupulous and illegal advantage seeking persons and quarters of the society may get a wrong signal, as a consequence, wretched, helpless and marginal people may get entangled the quagmire of litigations instead of resorting to age old custom of mediation to solve their disputes. In addition to that the prospect of filing false cases by unholy and scrupulous persons definitely exists there. Everybody concerned in this process must remain aware and committed in implementing the Government legal aid program in an effective and authentic manner. That is so that the Government's noble intention of providing legal protection to marginal people by no means can distract the process of rule of law.
It is submitted that local people's representatives and local public administration are the primary and effective means of solving problems of marginal people. Local representatives and public administration can play a vital role in establishing standard legal aid program. Considering this context National Legal Aid Services Organization framed rules 2011 where there are provisions for 15 members Upazilla and Union Parishad Committees and their duties and responsibilities. Chairmen of Upazilla and Union Parishads are remaining there as Committees' Chairs. To make them gender friendly Considerable number of female representations is ensured in the Committees.
Effective legal aid scheme is a sine qua non in establishing a society free from exploitation. Legal aid does not only mean charity on be half of government, but it also means that the poor and the disadvantaged people have a fundamental right to have legal aid for ensuring their access to justice.
Kazi Asif Ahmed
Advocate at Comilla Judge Court.