Advancing people-centred justice in Uganda: where are we seven years later?

HiiL’s work in Uganda began in 2015. Since then, we have remained true to our global goal: by 2030, HiiL will have empowered 150 million people to prevent and resolve their most pressing justice problems. Seven years on, and half-way to our audacious goal, we look back at what we have accomplished so far in Uganda. Have we contributed to user-friendly justice in Africa’s 8th most populous country? Has our work helped people resolve their justice issues fairly? Let’s find out.

Uganda is the only country where we applied HiiL’s approach to people-centred justice. This strategy implements the core aspects of HiiL’s expertise. It involves measuring justice, researching solutions, advising and partnering with justice workers to transform the sector, and supporting justice innovations known as Gamechangers. Our approach is based on five distinct pillars focused on achieving long-lasting impact. What follows is an overview of how each pillar steers our efforts to realise people-centred justice in Uganda. 


Letting the data do the talking

Data about people’s needs encourages justice sector providers to adapt their approaches and adjust how justice gets delivered. With this knowledge, leaders can anticipate and respond to justice concerns that ultimately improve access to justice.

In 2015, we decided to examine the scope of the problem using data. With support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), HiiL interviewed 6,000 Ugandans to better understand how people experience justice. The first Justice Needs & Satisfaction survey (JNS) in Uganda revealed that 88% of the respondents had experienced justice problems affecting their daily lives. However, only 7% turned to lawyers and the courts for help. We call that the justice gap.

Check out our interactive data dashboard:

Four years after the initial survey, HiiL conducted in 2019-2020 a second nationwide Justice Needs & Satisfaction (JNS) study. The survey showed that nearly 13 million legal problems occur each year in Uganda. Strikingly, roughly 70% of all legal problems result in a resolution perceived as unfair or receive no resolution at all. The most common problems in Uganda relate to crime (40%), domestic violence (35%), land (31%) and neighbour-related disputes (29%). 

The reports establish the scope of the issues facing Uganda, and also reveals their prevalence and where people turn for help in resolving their problems. With this information, HiiL as well as Ugandan justice leaders and justice practitioners now have relevant information and insights to improve delivery and access to justice in Uganda.

Following the pandemic, HiiL conducted in 2022 an online JNS study to update our understanding of the country’s justice landscape. This latest survey engaged respondents using social media. It was conducted in partnership with a legal aid startup BarefootLaw.

Data deepens our understanding of people’s justice needs and helps steer policy change to ‘what works’, said Rachael Ampaire, HiiL’s programme manager in Uganda. “The results from this eJNS provide new insights into how Uganda’s justice landscape is shifting and developing in this post-Covid-19 environment.”

Sneak peek into the data findings:

  • The prevalence of legal problems in Uganda is quite high: 83% of the respondents had to deal with one or more legal problems in the past year. This finding is consistent with our two previous studies conducted in Uganda.
  • Furthermore, many legal problems, even if not directly caused by the pandemic, are perceived as worsened by the health consequences, and lockdown measures and restrictions stemming from Covid-19. 
  • The pandemic has had a much larger impact on the legal problems of the young people from the social media sample who participated in the survey. Many of their problems are perceived as directly caused or at least worsened by the pandemic.


Transforming justice with the Family Justice Catalogue 

It is important for justice workers to be recognised as professionals and deliver the best quality of services to the users of the justice system. Professionals look for ways to communicate in a shared language so choices about appropriate interventions can be made efficiently. 

This is also true for lawyers, social workers, and providers of informal justice in communities, such as Local Councils Court (LCCs) and religious leaders. They want to ensure that their services are grounded in ‘what works’. It became clear that professionals and volunteers in Uganda’s justice sector felt the need to share knowledge on what works and apply international best practices. In partnership with  JLOS (Justice, Law and Order Sector), HiiL tried to facilitate this with The Family Justice Catalogue.

The Family Justice Catalogue is a justice Treatment Guideline which is a supporting tool that advises justice practitioners on how to offer better care. Treatment Guidelines are inspired by the medical sector and articulate a set of recommendations based on evidence and what delivers results. The Uganda Family Justice Catalogue contains 21 best practices and 112 recommendations written in partnership with a group of diverse and experienced Ugandan professionals.

There are two versions of the Family Justice Catalogue: a practical user version developed for people directly experiencing these justice issues, and a justice worker version designed for legal professionals as well as social workers and family therapists.

The justice sector is ready to work more evidence-based. Justice workers want to offer solutions that really work for people. People want good outcomes. Only then family justice can play an instrumental role in people’s lives, especially those of children.

The catalogue combines practice-based evidence (experiences from practitioners across Uganda) and evidence-based practice (recommended interventions from internationally conducted studies). It is a living document meaning it will continually improve as new information and responses from practitioners and users become available. Following a Case Study on LCCs and the development of the Family Justice Catalogue in 2021, HiiL held training sessions with LCCs from March to April 2021 in order to help guide the implementation of the Catalogue.


Innovative ideas for a justice that works 

Ugandans often try to resolve their problems mostly by engaging third parties, such as relying on family members, talking to the police, or going to Local Council Courts (LCCs). 

An innovation that aligns with this rationale is the Bataka Court Model, which entered HiiL’s Justice Accelerator programme in 2019. The project aims at empowering “Bataka Courts”, literally meaning ‘Ordinary Citizens Courts’ which is a community-based informal justice system for civil cases. It is facilitated by seven elders selected by the community, including women and youth representatives, to promote justice and help resolve conflict. Based in  Western Uganda, the informal court system has increased access to justice for the poor by putting people’s needs first and eliminating legal costs that are usually borne by justice seekers.

The findings of the JNS strongly suggested it would be advisable to support the Local Council Courts system, and in general, third parties that are neutral in practice. 

In addition to supporting community justice mechanisms, there was a clear need to simplify the justice journeys of people with justice problems. For that, brilliant innovators raised the stake with innovative solutions to help close the justice gap. These innovators include:

The Evidence and Methods Lab, which joined the Justice Accelerator programme in 2018. Evidence and Methods Lab is a civic technology initiative working in the areas of access to information, accountability and collecting what works in generating evidence. It creates smart infographics of complex justice problems in Uganda. These simplified formats with a visual appeal are able to reach diverse audiences.

Barefoot Law, a non-profit organisation that provides free legal information through technology and innovation. Barefoot Law empowers thousands of individuals and small businesses who would otherwise remain underserved in their hope for solutions to pressing justice needs. The lawyers at Barefoot law each have backgrounds in public prosecutorial work, private law practice, or politics. They have chosen to harness their talents and love for technology to expand access to justice to 50 million people across Africa by 2030.


We hope to achieve our goal in Uganda and around the world by 2030. Nonetheless, our mission is a long-term one and we seek to help with building lasting change. Justice startups are vital for this lasting change as they spur new innovations in Uganda’s justice sector ecosystem. However, Covid-19 took a toll on these organisations and their growth plans. In response, we launched the Business Resilience Programme in March 2021 which continued into October 2021. 

The 2021 Business Resilience Programme was an eight-month initiative for the HiiL Uganda Justice Accelerator alumni. The programme followed the 2020 Covid Resilience Programme. In this new iteration, the BRP was customised based on the needs of the startups. It provided hands-on support with the goal of generating revenue to help the startups sufficiently and sustainably scale their innovation.

The Business Resilience Programme sought to support seven justice startups that completed the Justice Accelerator programme in previous years. Bataka Courts and the Evidence and Method Lab were involved as well as Yunga, Legal Hub, Zzimba GamesJustice Bot, and Legit.

​​‘The programme was a good fit for us. We really needed it, and it has positioned us back into the hands of users after being hit by the Covid-19 lockdown. The coaching aspect was very instrumental in enforcing our plan regarding improving our inventory and onboarding new households in communities. The mentorship activities revealed a lot about the need for partnerships and a good PR strategy for achieving growth.’  -Anatoli Kirigwajjo, founder of Yunga Technologies.

Launch of the Innovating Justice Fund

Closing the  ‘Justice Gap’ by helping to scale new services and innovations remains a top priority for HiiL. Therefore, in June 2022, during World Justice Forum, HiiL and fund manager FOUNT launched the Innovating Justice Fund to financially support early-stage companies that deliver innovative justice solutions. The Fund is not specific to innovations in Uganda but undoubtedly expects Gamechangers from Uganda’s rich justice ecosystem to apply for investor support. “And they’ll get it,” said Ronald Lenz, HiiL’s Director of the Justice Accelerator, “so long as they have or can prove a sustainable business model towards people-centred justice.”


The podcast: listen to the story

We developed a podcast hosted by one of the Innovators, Legal Hub Uganda, in which you can listen to the achievements of the innovators and how they have impacted the communities in Uganda. Sharing their stories can serve as inspiration to others working to improve access to justice.

Listen to the podcast here or on Spotify:

The Justice Leaders movie: watch the story

In 2016, HiiL brought together eight justice leaders from all over the world to the Peace Palace: they formed The Justice Leadership Group. Each was leading or had led transformative justice programmes in their countries. In a closed room, we asked them the question: what is justice leadership?

The idea for the film started with the question of what kind of leaders are needed to transform the justice system and deliver justice to all citizens? And also, what of the personal stakes when you choose to be a justice leader?

The Justice Leaders is a documentary that portrays the struggle of two justice leaders in their fight for a justice system that cares for its people. The Honorable Chief Justice Katureebe of Uganda is part of the leadership of his country, at the pinnacle of the justice system. His story is like that of many justice leaders: lonely. Eager to improve it, he negotiates to bring change from within. Daphine Arinda leads differently. Through her work as an informal justice worker, she is immersed in the fight against lack of access to justice in the daily lives of most Ugandans.

You can watch the full movie on Youtube:


Has our work helped people resolve their justice issues fairly? Did we help create an enabling environment for user-friendly justice?

We think so. Looking back at all the different aspects of the projects, we, in collaboration with our partners, innovators, and justice practitioners, worked hard to provide top-down as well as bottom-up solutions to people’s justice problems. As our work continues, we will continue to focus on implementation, strengthening national capacity, and scaling community justice services.

However, we pride ourselves in providing evidence-based answers. This is why HiiL will continue to survey the everyday justice needs of Ugandans and support the justice transformation efforts in this small but trailblazing country in Africa.

Stay tuned to our channels to stay up-to-date with our journey towards achieving SDG16.3: equal access to justice for all in Uganda.