Rural institutional innovation: can village courts in Bangladesh accelerate access to justice and improve socio­economic outcomes?

Publication Details

3ie Funded Evaluation, DPW1.1100. A link to the completed study will appear here when available.

Ahmed M. Mobarak, Nick Beresford, Sayeed Ferdous, Martin Mattsson
Institutional affiliations
None specified
Grant-holding institution
None specified
South Asia
None specified
Anti-corruption/ Governance
Gender analysis
Anti-corruption/ Governance
Gender analysis
Equity Focus
Evaluation design
Randomised Control Trials (RCT)
Ongoing 3ie Funded Studies
3ie Funding Window
Development Priorities Window 1


This study evaluates the socio-economic impact of the Activating Village Courts in Bangladesh (AVCB) programme designed to improve access to justice.


Lack of access to justice is evidently a large problem in rural Bangladesh. Barriers to access formal courts include long waiting time, complex procedures and expensive to use. Informal dispute mechanisms are common, but often lack the power to enforce decisions. This situation persists in many other low-income countries.

To address this gap, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) passed into law a system of village courts (VCs) in 2006 that are empowered to resolve smaller disputes. Qualitative reports indicate the frequency of formation and use of the VCs have thus far been low. To counter this deficit, the Bangladesh government launched the AVCB programme, with technical assistance from United Nations Development Programme and funding from the European Union in 2009.  

Since its inception, the AVCB programme is now active in 351 UPs and the VCs in the programme areas have resolve approximately 70,000 disputes. The government has plans to expand the programme to 1000 new UPs over the next four years. This evaluation will inform future expansions of the AVCB programme and provide valuable insights for other similar programmes around the world.

Research questions

What is the effect of the AVCB programme on:

  1. Access to justice
  2. Quality of the justice process
  3. Reduction in the level of conflict and unlawful activity
  4. Changes in economic activity and individuals’ overall assessment of village life
  5. Measures of women’s empowerment
  6. Satisfaction with the Union Parishad (UP) leaders


Intervention design

The VCs are authorised to resolve small disputes (up to BDT 75,000 or approximately US$ 1,000) at a local-level inexpensively and with less administrative complication. The chair of the lowest tier of rural local government (the Union Parishad or UP) acts as the chair of the VC, and the plaintiff and defendant nominate four jury members. These five-person courts take on both criminal and civil cases.

Since its inception, the AVCB programme has provided technical assistance to improve the functioning of the VCs, such as through training of relevant local government officials and provision of physical and human capital resources. This programme helps inform local population about the VC system, encourages them to seek justice in the case of a dispute and promotes inclusion of women as jury members in cases involving women or children.

Theory of change

The AVCB programme can lead to effective VCs that can be used by the people in the UP. Effective VCs are expected to help decrease the share of conflicts brought to district courts and informal justice systems, as well as decrease in the share of unlawful activities and unresolved disputes. As a result, people will feel safer and increase their participation in economic activities that require trust or contract-based engagement with other individuals and counterparties. This may increase investments in previously insecure property, such as disputed land. Ultimately, as new economic opportunities arise, material wellbeing will increase and poverty will decrease.

Evaluation design

This study uses a randomised controlled trial design to evaluate the impact of the AVCB. A treatment group of UPs where the AVCB programme is implemented will be compared to a control group of UPs that do not receive the programme during the two-year study period. The sample size will be at least 105 UPs and 2,100 households.  

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