Friday, January 4, 2013

Existing Practices of ADR in Bangladesh

Society’s world-over has long used non-judicial, indigenous methods to resolve disputes. In Bangladesh, dispute resolution outside of courts is not new. What is new is the extensive promotion and proliferation of ADR models and its increased uses[1].

In the traditional system, disputes are resolved within the village. However depending on the intensity of the dispute or gravity of the situation, neighboring villages are also sometimes involved. During the British period, in 1870, the Panchayat system was introduced to manage and rule the area for its collection of revenue. The Panchayat system was used to resolve minor disputes within their area, and the major disputes were forwarded for legal procedures. In 1919, the Bengal Village Self Government Act was introduced and Union Courts were set up to resolve disputes locally. Later, the government established the Rin Shalishi Board to keep peasants free from the Mahazons and the moneylenders and also to avoid clashes. Later, the Family Court Ordinance of 1961 and the Village Court Act of 1976 were introduced and authority was vested on the Chairman of Union Parishad to try petty local cases and small crimes committed in their area and take consensual decisions. These were later strengthened in 1985 with additional power to cover women and children’s rights. The village court consists of UP chairman, members and representatives from concerned parties. Under the Village Court Act of 1976, the village court can try disputes over property valued not exceeding Tk. 5,000. The village court has also power to summon a person to stand as a witness and can impose a fine of up to Tk. 500 on contempt charges. The village court provides easy access to the local people without any obstacle and allows them to defend their position without any outside assistance or lawyer. It is also less cumbersome and less expensive. However, this system has some disadvantages, such as the court decisions are sometimes biased and the members of the court may or may not have adequate knowledge and experience to conduct trial procedure.
The present Union Parishad is the first tier in the hierarchy of local bodies in Bangladesh and has a mandate to settle disputes of the local people through Shalish. The decision of the Shalish is binding to the parties. In the process, the village elite is also involved. Major cases are not settled locally[2].
Political influences are very frequent and often biased in the Shalish. Today, many NGOs are quite successfully involved in mediation between disputants. Still, many disputes are not mediated nor are local people acquainted with the ADR system.

[1] Study Circle Discussion Guide on Alternative Dispute Resolution, Material Development, Study Circle Program, NDI, August, 2003;  Dhaka, P.7.
[2] Ibid, P.8.

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