Ground breaking survey shows that access to legal justice in Uganda is patchy and unfair

Ground breaking survey shows that access to legal justice in Uganda is patchy and unfair; solutions urgently needed.
April 14 2016

The justice needs of Ugandans have been extensively mapped for the first time. Ground breaking research carried out by HiiL (The Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law, based in The Hague, the Netherlands), in partnership with ACORD Uganda, shows that in the last four years nearly nine out of 10 Ugandans required access of some kind to the justice system, but their needs are not being met.

Of the nine people that needed help, three of them gave up right off the bat and their problems were not resolved. This was due to lack of knowledge, power or money, or some combination of the three. As for the other six, many found legal processes – and ultimately the solutions – to be unfair. As a result, it is clear that many people are needlessly suffering.

A total of 6.202 Ugandan citizens were interviewed over the course of the research. The findings have just been published in the report ‘Legal Problems in Daily Life.’
The report discusses the difficulties of ordinary Ugandans in accessing justice and receiving fair outcomes for their daily justice problems. Most worrying, the 30% who receive no justice at all, disproportionally comprises the most vulnerable segments of the population: those with low incomes or who are unemployed, women, elderly people and people with low education levels and people from rural areas.

During the launch of the report today, Honourable Principle Judge Yorakamu Bamwine said: “[w]e should not be offended by these findings. (...), just focus on change, the rest will come naturally.” The Honourable Principle Judge mentioned several innovations that are already being implemented in the courts, but also stresses a need for further innovations and the role JLOS will take on to assure change.

Of the two thirds of people who pursue a solution to their problems, most seek help of the Local Council Courts, their families and their social networks. Only 5% of cases end up in a court of law. In practice, this means the formal justice system in Uganda is out of reach for the majority of Ugandans.

“Clearly these numbers need to be reversed: nine (if not 10) out of 10 Ugandans must be given access to justice. In doing so, individuals can secure their income and livelihoods, a positive effect that ripples through the economy and society" says HiiL’s CEO, Sam Muller.

The fact that this research reflects the experiences and concerns of everyday citizens gives it a legitimate foundation on which to build. HiiL is grateful for the commitment of JLOS to act on its findings and come forward with solutions.

Rachel Odoi, Senior Technical Advisor at JLOS stresses: “HiiL’s report could have a tremendous impact on the future of the justice system in Uganda. It is a useful baseline on which we can devise strategies on where we want to be in the next five years. The proposed solutions and tools provide a blueprint for action, specifically re-designing systems in a way that works for all Ugandans.”

Funding for this project was provided by the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda and The Hague Institute for Global Justice in the Netherlands. The project was carried out with the support of ACORD Uganda.

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About HiiL (Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law)
HiiL helps turn the most promising and disruptive ideas into effective innovations by bringing together the best legal experts, cutting-edge technology, and new types of funding. We differ because we put the users of the justice system first. We constantly scan the latest available knowledge and work to help our clients understand people’s justice needs and develop effective strategies based on what works. We do not consult from the sides, but co-create. We help to integrate new technologies for resolving conflict in time-honoured legal procedures, linked to effective institutional structures. HiiL Innovating Justice works with courts, legal aid boards, NGOs, ministries responsible for justice, and, companies that are looking for fair and innovative solutions that can be sustainably funded and can catalyse systemic change.