THIS is concerning that poor prisoners suffer greatly in accessing justice. Although the government and some non-governmental organisations have provided legal aid services for a long time, many poor prisoners do not receive the legal aid because of a number of issues and complications; and, they keep languishing in prisons without trial. The government in 2000 introduced the Legal Aid Services Act 2000 ‘to provide for legal aid to the litigants who are incapable of seeking justice due to financial insolvency, destitution, helplessness and for various socioeconomic conditions.’ The government later established the National Legal Aid Services Organisation, which is reported to have provided legal assistance for 3.53 lakh people since its establishment in 2009. The government has also established legal aid offices in all the 64 districts to offer legal aid and, yet, it has, as legal rights activists say, largely failed to provide legal aid for hundreds of poor inmates. The issues said to be holding back the full implementation of the legal aid law are many. Some of them pertain to the definition and mode of action of the law and the implementing agencies.
The law specifies that people will be eligible for legal aid if their annual income is not above Tk 150,000 in cases of the Supreme Court and Tk 100,000 in cases of other courts. Experts say that this criterion is flawed as there are many prisoners whose income might cross the stipulated mark but they might still be in need of legal aid. Other criteria — people who are physically or mentally handicapped and incapable of earning, unemployed or receive old-age honorarium, poor women who hold vulnerable group feeding cards, women and children who are victims of trafficking, women and children who are acid victims, members of national minorities, homeless people, any