NGOs Intervention in Legal Aid Services

Legal aid providing NGOs in Bangladesh

Many NGOs claim themselves to be legal aid providers; very few of them are seen to provide legal aid as their regular program. Despite this, several NGOs operate a wide-ranging legal aid program in Bangladesh. Some NGOs have a long-standing engagement with human rights. Some leading NGOs have pioneered the legal aid movement in Bangladesh. Among these are Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA), Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) etc. Other NGOs also operate legal aid programs for the poor and marginalised on top of other regular programmes.

Legal Aid Services in Bangladesh and NGO roles

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Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB)

The main object of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) is to establish Human Rights for the citizens of Bangladesh. This organisation provides legal aid to poor people. It will secure the legal system's operation and promote access to justice. It helps develop the institutional facilities necessary for strengthening constitutional governance, democracy, peace and the rule of law to implement Human Rights. This organisation promotes study and research to develop a comprehensive strategy for human rights performance. This organisation is giving legal aid through Human Rights protection units in the country's different Bar Associations and localities. This organisation is working on "How Human Rights can be established in our country". 


This organisation is trying to promote an understanding and belief in the protection of human rights and furtherance thereof to promote international understanding and cooperation in universal respect for the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, religion and colour. This organisation especially takes up necessary steps in case of violation of Human Rights by state organs.

About 140 public interest litigation has been filed by HRPB, by which thousands of people of Bangladesh ensure their rights through court. For the person or group of people who are financially unable to come to court for enforcing their rights, the organisation HRPB is ready to provide legal aid through their devoted lawyers.


Bangladesh Human Rights Commission-BHRC

Bangladesh Human Rights Commission-BHRC is one of the most significant Voluntary International human rights and peace bodies in the Asian Region working against torture and for the preservation, promotion and upholding of human rights/peace with over a thousand branches at home and abroad. BHRC is registered by the Government of Bangladesh and established in 1987 as per the UN bill of rights charter. It is accredited by the United Nations & Government of the United States of America (USA) and is Affiliated Status with the International Commission of Jurists- ICJ. It is also a member body of OMCT/SOS Torture Network (Geneva) and a Member with Observer Status of the African Commission on Human & Peoples Rights. BHRC is affiliated with many other national and international bodies.


The BHRC has provided legal assistance and advice to about 5 lac people annually concerning human rights violations in Bangladesh and overseas. Over 1 lac regular activists in the country carry out these activities voluntarily. In personal life, these people are Educationists, Lawyers, Newsmen, Teachers, Physicians and Social Workers. The BHRC has carried out its jobs to distressed people for 30 years. BHRC, since its inception, has been working for the protection of human rights irrespective of class, race, tribe, religion and other sorts of discrimination.

The BHRC identified people's ignorance about their own rights as the root cause of many sufferings. Keeping it in mind, BHRC renders legal training to the people. It also gives free legal aid to the poor, the oppressed and the dispossessed who are victims of injustice, illegal detention, harassment etc., especially to promote the administration of justice and the Rule of Law.


The BHRC also feels the need for changes in enacting the law, which is inconsistent with basic Human Rights. BHRC believes that poverty is one of the main reasons for the rapid violation of human rights. Therefore BHRC, in cooperation with its sister organisation, The Institute of Rural Development (IRD), has been working for alleviating poverty through some self-employment programmes.

Legal Aid Programme For Victims of Torture- Activities: The BHRC has entertained thousands of cases. Mainly Female and poor clients/victims and affected persons who present themselves personally or send written statements at our offices to lodge their complaints. Legal Aid Personnel and Social Workers help the victims if necessary, filing cases in the courts of law or through Negotiation or mediation. The BHRC finds this approach very successful in establishing social order and discipline in family life.

Categories of legal aid cases: a) Torture; b) Matrimonial; c) Harassment/Eviction; d) Unlawful Detention/Arrest/Torture; e) Rape Cases/other Sexual Harassment; f) Social Protection; g) Allegations against discrimination etc. and h) Cases of Acid Burning woman and children.


Democracy Watch Bangladesh

Democracy Watch is an NGO working to promote democracy and good governance in Bangladesh since 1995. It conducts training and runs projects with a vision to build awareness of democracy and reasonable rule. It also carries out research and opinion polls on different social and political dimensions.

The overall objective of our project is to provide an environment supporting citizens' access to legal services and the ability of justice seekers to enforce their legal rights through the formal justice system through project activities covering linkages between the DLAC UZLAC & UPLAC. The legal education campaign will be conducted through the miking campaign, courtyard meeting, facilitation of bi-monthly UZLAC & UPLAC meetings, the orientation of members of UZLAC & UPLAC, quarterly coordination meetings with judges, panel lawyers and judicial officers involving the legal aid committee members. Legal info materials will be produced with posters, brochures, stickers, and leaflets. Community sensitisation events will be supported by mass awareness through video documentary show on legal attention, a public hearing by institutions, the mock exercise of court procedures, a school-based debate program, rallies and legal aid fair on National Legal Aid Day (28 April) on District & Upazila level, and other methods.


Bangladesh Manabadhikar Bastabayan Sangstha

'Bangladesh Manabadhikar Bastabayan Sangstha' (in English: Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights – BSEHR) is the pioneer and leading organisation in Bangladesh, established on 10 December 1977, to work on establishing and protecting the Human Rights of the poor and vulnerable women, men and children in Bangladesh. This organisation believes that human rights are the essential elements of human development and a country's social and economic development.


Legal Aid Support to victims to access justice is one of the top programs of Manabadhikar.  Access to justice is not always easy for the poor and vulnerable people in our country. In many cases, the poor and helpless victims do not feel encouraged to go to court for justice. Instead, s/he accepts injustice / unfair settlements made by the influential local people. This organisation has more than 2500 lawyers all over the country to provide legal aid support. Some of the sensitive legal battles are (from the Manabadhikar archive)

Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum

Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) is a national network of Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) actively engaged in child rights work. It was formed and launched in 1990, following the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) ratification by Bangladesh in the same year. The World Declaration on the Survival, Protection, Development and Participation and the Plan of Action for its implementation as adopted by the World Summit on Children in September 1990 and subsequent Declarations provided the framework for its operational objectives, which seek to ensure services and rights to children as provided in the CRC. BSAF started its journey in 1990 with eighteen member NGOs increased to 260 member NGOs.  BSAF advocates for a Child-Friendly world. It works as a networking entity and brings together and assists child rights organisations in pursuing common goals. It helps synthesise the viewpoints of member organisations and works to mobilise material and human resources for promoting child rights programs. It provides collective leadership in program matters to member organisations. It works with law and policymakers to bring positive changes in national laws and policies relating to children. It runs a vigorous campaign at the macro level to make civil society and policymakers aware of the provisions of CRC. It plays a proactive role in promoting and upholding these rights. It also provides guidelines and assistance to member organisations to advocate promoting child rights and influencing the government's policies.


Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) 

BLAST, a prominent legal aid service provider in Bangladesh, was established in 1993 as a free and voluntary legal services organisation. After beginning operation in five offices, BLAST has grown steadily. It now has 19 unit offices in Barishal, Bogura, Chittagong, Comilla, Dhaka, Dinajpur, Faridpur, Jessore, Khulna, Kustia, Mymensingh, Noakhali, Pabna, Patuakhali, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sylhet and Tangail in addition to its head office in Dhaka. BLAST's primary concern is improving access to justice in Bangladesh for the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalised communities. 


BLAST works through its staff lawyers, para-legals and other staff at headquarters and in each district unit, in collaboration with its enlisted panel of about 2300 lawyers across the country who provide legal redress to clients either on a pro bono basis or with a nominal honorarium. BLAST is a legal aid providing NGO that offers legal support to the client at all courts. BLAST provides legal assistance in the form of advice and legal Chapter-VI Page 37 of 61 representation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It conducts training and workshops with a wide range of actors within the justice system and the public to spread knowledge of constitutional and legal rights. BLAST also conducts public interest litigation and advocacy campaigns to help shape and implement laws and enable the provision of remedies that ensure access to justice.

Core Activities: Mediation, Litigation, PIL & Advocacy, Capacity building, Investigation of human rights violations, Networking etc


Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK) 

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) is a national legal aid and human rights organisation established in 1986 to provide free legal assistance, particularly to women, workers and working children, and to promote and protect human rights. Its goal is to create a society based on equality, social and gender justice and the rule of law. ASK provides legal advice and undertakes mediation, litigation, and supplementary support services, such as temporary emergency shelter and psycho-social help. ASK attempts to protect human rights through 17 units that promote human rights awareness, public interest litigation, investigate and document human rights violations etc. ASK conducts its programmes outside Dhaka with 20 critical partner NGOs and CBOs, 52 Schools and 15 Human Rights Defenders Forums. ASK has been maintaining special consultative status with the UN ECOSOC since 31 July 1998 and engages in advocacy with UN agencies, treaty monitoring bodies and special procedures on issues of concern.


Core Activities: Legal Advocacy & Policy, Litigation, Mediation & Rapid Response, Psycho-social Counseling, Human Rights Awareness, Investigation of human rights violation, Gender & Social Justice.

Bangladesh Rural Advance Committee (BRAC) 

Currently, BRAC is the world's largest NGO working in the development sector, established in 1972, soon after the liberation of Bangladesh. BRAC is also the biggest NGO by staff, having more than 120,000 people, most of whom are women. It operates various programs such as microfinance, education, health, agriculture, legal aid, human rights, etc. Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) programme is one of the specialised components under the BRAC's framework to implement legal aid programs all over the country. HRLS started its function in 1998 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 and courts. It counsels more transparency in delivering equitable justice, spreading gender awareness and promoting unique human rights-based culture for its clients. 


Core Activities: Legal Literacy, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Litigation, Property Rights Initiatives, Community Outreach, Services, Legal Aid Referrals, Capacity Building, Operation of 3P models (Prevent-Protest-Protect)

Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) 

BNWLA is one of the leading organisations working for legal aid and human rights in Bangladesh. The Association was formed in 1979 with an initiative of some prominent women lawyers and subsequently registered as a legal aid body in 1981. BNWLA works for the promotion of women by providing legal support to the poor and disadvantaged, undertaking advocacy on law and policy reforms, lobbying the authorities on women's rights and issues, conducting research, collecting data and undertaking surveys on women issues, affording preventive and protective supports in establishing human rights and resisting violence against woman and children, provide psycho-social supports and social safety net for targeted beneficiaries and practice gender equality and good governance. BNWLA operates comprehensive legal aid programs through their sex departments such as Legal Cell, Advocacy and Research Cell, Training Cell, Counter-Trafficking Cell and Shelter.


Core Activities: Policy Advocacy, Awareness raising/Sensitisation events, Capacity building of relevant stakeholders, Referral Services, Community based preventive interventions, Research and publications on different VAW issues, Rehabilitation and Reintegration, building a social safety net

Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA) 

MLAA was established in 1978 as a registered NGO with the vision of a just society where the rule of law and human rights are upheld. It strives to ensure access to justice and human rights for all people irrespective of sex, caste, creed, religion, or race through the informal justice process and formal justice system. MLAA has been working on providing free legal aid to the poor and marginalised people within three neighbouring districts - Madaripur, Shariatpur and Gopalganj. MLAA has developed sustainable programs that address the most significant challenges with Bangladesh's formal and informal justice system. MLAA, run by a General Committee, consists of 53 members drawn from civil society. The secretary acts as the chief executive. There are also several sub-committees from the General and the Executive Committee. Governance is the system by which the board provides guidance to management on the organisation's strategic direction by monitoring and overseeing management action to utilise organisational resources to achieve its Mission and Vision.


Core Activities: Free legal aid services, Dispute resolution through mediation, Activation of Village Court & Arbitration Council, Advocacy & Networking, Capacity building of stakeholders.

Nagorik Udyog (NU) 

Nagorik Udyog (The Citizen's Initiative) is one of the leading human rights organisations established in 1995. NU focuses on helping people understand their rights and creating enabling conditions for the people to set up institutions and mobilise themselves. NU believes in the necessity of more affordable and accessible justice systems than that inherent in Bangladesh's existing formal court and judicial systems. The lack of awareness among poor people of their civil rights compounds the issue. NU thus strives to see an increase in administrative participation and more robust representative structures at the grassroots level, giving poor people improved access to justice and other social services irrespective of gender or social class.


Core Activities: Access to Justice, Strengthening the Local Governance, Women Empowerment, Human Rights Awareness, Dalit Rights, Right to Information, Advocacy & Networking.

Role of the NGOs in promoting Legal Aid Services in Bangladesh

NGOs have played a vital role in Bangladesh to provide legal aid to the indigent, disadvantaged, and vulnerable sects of the people. The Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), BRAC, RUPANTAR, etc., play a significant role in ensuring access to justice for needy people through legal aid services. NGOs are providing legal aid services to helpless people through: 


1. Requiting stuff lawyers; 

2. Requiting Para-legal experts and Legal Aid: A Process to Ensure Access to Justice and Human Rights in Bangladesh researchers; 

3. Providing free legal advice; 

4. Providing financial assistance; 

5. Arranging and encouraging arbitration and mediation; 

6. Pro-bono activities; 

7. Arranging awareness programs and seminars etc. 

NGOs mainly provide legal aid on the grounds of: 

1) Human Rights violations; 

2) Violation against women and girls; 

3) Violation against religious or ethnic minorities; 

4) Violation against Children's rights; 

5) Torture, murder, abduction, rape, enforced- disappearance, etc. 

6) Family rights, dowry, marriage, divorce, etc. 

7) Trafficking, acid victims, victims of sexual abuse etc. 

Moreover, NGOs publish books, journal articles, leaflets, and pamphlets, to increase public awareness regarding the right to get legal aid from helpless, disadvantaged people. Apart from publications, NGOs arrange seminars and symposiums to raise public awareness.


Strengths of NGOs in Legal Aid Services

1. Some NGOs are still pioneers in the legal aid field of Bangladesh. Most of the legal aid programmes initiated by some prominent NGOs in Bangladesh now got a structural shape. This unique development actually rooted the seed for the legal assistance revolution in Bangladesh. Some leading NGOs in the legal aid field became experts in delivering legal services through their long experience and commitment to this area of law and justice. 

2. Legal aid provided by different NGOs in Bangladesh has a reasonable variation compared to the nature and mode of legal services. Various NGOs adopted other models of legal aid, which ultimately became helpful in fulfilling the need of justice seekers. Some NGOs especially emphasise on-court representation, some on legal empowerment and legal literacy, some on legal advice and counselling services, and some on legal mobilisation. This made the NGO legal aid service diversified, wide-ranging and pro-people oriented. 

3. A common consensus developed among the people that NGO operated legal aid programs have easy access compared to those of state-sponsored schemes. People have confidence in the NGO services for their service-oriented, result-based and friendly approaches. NGOs maintain the most extensive network with ordinary people, especially the grassroots people. This connectivity may promote legal services among the poor and disadvantaged people throughout the country.

4. NGO's advisory services, especially advising, counselling, assisting in the administrative process, drafting legal documents, and initial support to the clients through a para-legal, have proved useful. Further to this, NGOs have vast experience spreading legal awareness and education to disadvantaged populations through outreach activities.


Weakness/Problems of NGOs in Legal Aid Services

1. Most NGOs are dependent on foreign sources for funds. These NGOs have neither their own funds nor any other internal sources for implementing non-profit projects. Donor agencies, international NGOs, development partners, and multinational organisations provide funds to the NGOs to implement various projects or schemes, especially in education, health, legal aid, human rights, and women empowerment issues. Furthermore, the procedures followed by the government for the disbursement of the donor's fund are complex and cumbersome.

2. Most of the NGO legal aid activities are the result of a time-bound project approach with quantitative aims that are often confined to targeted beneficiary categories, such as schemes for violence against women victims, child trafficking, disabled people etc. Projects are taken for a short period usually for one or multiple years. This limitation of NGO legal aid makes a barrier to the sustainability of legal aid programs. 

3. It is true that some unscrupulous elements have made fortunes by floating NGOs for their own gains and managing grants from foreign donors and the government. It is a common experience that there have been severe charges of misuse and misappropriation of funds received as grant-in-aid from the government and foreign donors and raised through their own resources by most NGOs. These NGOs may reflect their image to other NGOs who are working with dedication and commitment 

4. Sometimes, the need for legal aid and human rights activities is not adequately addressed through projects intervention. In most cases, education, health, micro-credit etc., are given the highest priority by the NGOs compared with law and justice, such as legal aid, legal literacy, legal empowerment etc. 

Donors prefer the choice of NGOs while funding welfare activities going beyond their own interest or working in more than one programme. This also leads to a cut in NGO based legal aid programmes. 

5. The lack of coordination among the NGOs at various levels has created common problems such as overlapping, duplication, non-coordination etc. Besides, the absence of a common forum among the NGOs creates a significant gap in implementing NGO legal aid programs. The management of various NGOs does not facilitate the exchange of information, data collection, research, training and publication and does not create favourable conditions where common difficulties can be placed before the respective authorities of NGOs.



Asadujjaman M. (2010). Access to Justice and Legal Aid in Bangladesh.

Hossaini, M. R. I., & Hossain, M. S. Legal Aid: A Process to Ensure Access to Justice and Human Rights in Bangladesh.

Jahan, E. (2015). Legal Aid in Bangladesh: Application and Commitment. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, 4(2), 2-3.

Murad, M. H., & Hossain, M. S. (2014). Legal Aid in Bangladesh: An Overview. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 4(3), 279.

Craige, H. B., Saur, W. G., & Arcucri, J. B. (1982). The practise of social work in legal services programs. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare, 9, 307.

Mian, M. N., & Rashid, M. M. (2014). A Critical Analysis of Legal Aid in Bangladesh. International Journal of Social Science Research, 2(1), 139-150.

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