Legal Aid Services
Legal Aid Clinics
In 1998, HRLS instigated its Legal Aid component in order to provide legal support and make the government courts accessible to the poor and destitute. Through its 517 nationwide legal aid clinics, which is the first port of call for those seeking legal redressal, HRLS's legal aid initiative has nurtured an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanism. It has worked towards making legal offices, courts, and counsels, more transparent in the delivery of equitable justice, spread gender awareness, and promoted a unique human rights based culture for its clients. In this way, our programme has harmonised its legal aid component with the legal literacy module to create the momentum to improve legal legislation and the judicial system. Up until September 2012, 182,170 complaints have been received by the clinics, 98,430 of which have been resolved through ADR. Under the leadership of dynamic field personnel, the HRLS programme utilises a vast network of communities and proactive partners to detect, handle, and report, human rights violations. The total number of judgements in favour total to 16,620. Today HRLS continues to provide holistic legal aid and support services across the country.
Fostering Human Rights Lawyering
We strengthen the capacity of a large network of Panel Lawyers for research, litigation, ensuring transparency in the formal legal sector, and monitoring case results. With this, clients receive due protection under the law, the rights to a fair trial, and do not face unnecessary delays resulting from the negligence of various actors in the formal judicial system. By this process, we ensure proper and equal access to justice for poor and marginalised people.
The Property Rights Initiative
The human rights and legal aid services (HRLS) programme has implemented a pilot project titled ‘The Property Rights Initiative’ in two northern districts of Bangladesh with a broad objective to develop linkages between laws and rights by helping poor communities identify their entitlement to property rights and by supporting them to access their claims. After successful implementation of the 11 month pilot initiative, PRI is now scaling up the programme as its regular intervention in four other northern districts as PRI Phase Two. This initiative is expected to reach about 1.8 million households, and will make a significant impact in creating demand for property rights, increasing procedural understanding to ensure possession and title over land as well as management and mitigation of conflict through mediation and the formal justice system.
Enable Transformative Behavioural Change towards Property Rights
The Human Rights and Legal Education (HRLE) classes are the entry point for injecting “rights-based thinking” into a community. The classes bring together a critical mass of individuals and serves as a platform to promote awareness of laws and rights. A new curriculum has been developed to shift the paradigm from a purely legal literacy focus to one of rights articulation. The unique feature of the new HRLE curriculum is to incorporate property rights issues, including specific claims to land or property by women in general and marginalised populations in particular. Some of the areas regarding property that the curriculum now covers include Hindu, Muslim and Christian women’s rights over inheritable and acquired property; opportunities for women to utilise, own and control land; land registration, mutation, tax payments; access to khas land. The curriculum aims at bringing behavioural change among the poor, particularly women, by enabling them to understand, express and claim their rights to property and land. About 5,000 women have completed the HRLE course during the pilot phase and about 60,000 women will attend this 12-day long course in six districts in next three years under PRI Phase Two.
Community Outreach and Legal Aid for Property Rights
To promote and sustain behavioural changes among the poor communities, PRI has developed outreach strategies to ensure wider participation of local elites and opinion leaders, local government representatives, government officials, and other important stakeholders into various interventions of PRI. Given the social and cultural dimensions of property rights, the PRI conducts extensive outreach efforts to provide women and other vulnerable populations with information, safe spaces and support structures to assist them in articulating their demand for property rights and converting that demand into an actionable claim. The key activities are: a) conduct workshop with local community leaders, b) organise courtyard sessions with BRAC and non-BRAC community groups, local committees and other networks, c) organise popular theatre shows, d) SMS campaign.
Land Measurement Services
Most of the land disputes in Bangladesh are originated from faulty land measurements. In the pilot phase, HRLS has selected 192 highly motivated, pro-poor individuals to develop them as Land Entrepreneurs (LEs) in Rangpur district. They have been trained by the instructors of government survey institute following the government curriculum. They also receive government recognised certification at the end of the training course. They have already earned a very good reputation for their accurate and impartial measurements. Alongside providing quality land measurement services they are monitoring human rights violation in their respective communities and report to HRLS legal aid clinics.