Strengthening the Capacity of Local Council Courts in Uganda
The Democratic Governance Facility (“DGF”) is a development facility in Uganda bringing together the support of several countries – Austria, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the European Union – in the strengthening of democratization, human rights, access to justice and accountability in Uganda. Since September 2013, ILI-ACLE has been in partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Local Government (“MoLG”) and the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) with the support of DGF for the implementation of an extensive initiative aimed at strengthening access to justice in Uganda through building the capacity of its most accessible court structures – local council courts (“LCCs”) – in 45 districts across the country.
Mainstreaming justice in Uganda, through Magistrate courts, the High Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court, is simply inaccessible to the majority of Ugandan households, as it is very expensive (in terms of filing fees, legal representation, and transport costs), time consuming, cumbersome (as legal proceedings are complex and conducted in English), and confined to major towns and trading centers (whereas the rural poor lack requisite funds for transport). The LLCs provide the most direct avenue for the majority of Uganda’s population to access justice and seek protection of their rights, operating at the village (“LCC I”), parish (“LCC II”) and sub-county (“LCC III”) levels. Beyond their proximity to the people (physical access), LCC proceedings are generally conducted in the local language of the community (technical access), require minimal fees (financial access), remove some of legal formalities associated with the “mainstream” courts and apply customary law (psychological access). As a testament to their accessibility, it is estimated that approximately 80% of Ugandans use LCCs to resolve disputes. However, the effective operation of LCCs is hindered by the following key challenges:
- Limited technical knowledge and skills of LCCs to effectively resolve disputes within their jurisdiction;
- Lack of streamlined operations and management of LCCs, hindered by inadequate systems for monitoring of LCCs and their limited facilitation;
- The need to harmonise political action and processes to further strengthen the perception of legitimacy of LCCs; and
- Public confusion surrounding LCCs and lack of awareness amongst communities as to their role and responsibilities.