Justice and Prison Reform for Promoting Human Rights and Preventing Corruption

Project description

Title: Justice and Prison Reform for Promoting Human Rights and Preventing Corruption
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Co-financing Financier: UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO)
Country: Bangladesh
Lead executing agencies: Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs (MoLJPA)
Overall term: 2018 to 2021

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Access to justice and rule of law remain a major challenge in Bangladesh, particularly for the poor and vulnerable. While most Bangladeshis have trust in the justice system, only 13 per cent of the people turn to the formal justice system to seek justice. There are multiple reasons for this - some of the laws on which the criminal justice system (CJS) is based, date back to colonial times. The outdated processes provide room for corruption, undermine the image of the CJS and prevent the reduction of the huge case backlog and prison overcrowding.

The judiciary is currently overburdened with 3.4 million cases. The National Justice Audit Bangladesh shows that the rate of case inflow is much higher than the rate of case disposal. The overcrowding in prisons, which are on average at 200 per cent of their capacity, is further exacerbated by this. With approximately 80 per cent under-trial prisoners, it creates a challenge to provide proactive legal assistance, rehabilitation services and to ensure human rights.

The Government of Bangladesh acknowledges the importance of timely and quality service to the citizens and has taken several steps in recent years towards reforms in the judiciary and the prison system, including directives from the Supreme Court for more efficient case management. 

The reform approaches have been piloted successfully at the district level through Paralegal Advisory Service (PAS); Restorative Justice; rehabilitation as part of the prison system; and improved inter-institutional cooperation through inter-ministerial meetings and Case Coordination Committees (CCCs). These piloted approaches of inter-institutional cooperation are being gradually adopted by the justice sector.


The justice sector adopts new reform approaches based on the best practices and key approaches of institutional cooperation.

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The programme is working to improve the quality and delivery of the justice system, by creating the organisational and legal framework to embed the reform approaches and to build up the necessary capacities. It operates in three main areas: Institutional strengthening, Evidence-based policy advocacy and Access to justice for the vulnerable.

In the previous phase (2012-2018) of the programme, the deployment of paralegals and the establishment of the CCCs contributed to the release of more than 20,000 non-convicted prisoners. After piloting these services in five districts, they were expanded to 40 out of 64 districts in 2017.

The current phase focuses on the institutionalisation of the key approaches and best practices of the programme which is reflected in the joint strategy paper prepared by the two partner Ministries, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) and Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs (MoLJPA). Due to stronger inter-ministerial cooperation between MoHA and MoLJPA, the application of learning experiences from the previous phase and the drafting of the new Prisons and Correctional Services Act puts a new focus on rehabilitation. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the programme and the National Legal Aid Services Organization lays the foundation for future government cooperation with NGOs for improved legal assistance. Cooperation between the programme, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and MoLJPA in the context of the Justice Audit opens new possibilities to support measuring the progress towards the sub-goals of SDG 16.

The tried and tested approaches of the programme are now being implemented in 28 project districts. The dialogue on the institutionalisation of these approaches has been initiated and the reform approaches are expected to be implemented through the new phase of the programme.


The programme has helped to establish partnerships for legal assistance, quick disposal of the cases and improved coordination for case management among the different actors of the CJS. Work by PAS and CCCs have resulted in the swift release of around 22,527 prisoners from the inception of the project till October 2019. Furthermore, the paralegals have assisted 279,024 justice seekers in courts and 25,488 in police stations. The programme has also undertaken evidence-based policy dialogue for initiating legislative reforms targeted towards reducing prison overcrowding and case backlog.

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Additional information