Justice Innovation Uganda: Launch of new research on formal and informal justice delivery

Uganda is one of the most active countries regarding justice innovation. Uganda’s growing commitment to people-centered justice ensures putting people and their needs at the center of justice systems. The movement calls for the transformation of justice systems to open up to a wider range of justice providers, and to open up to innovation. This is supported by new data and research on formal and informal justice delivery.

Talking about justice problems and collecting data systematically
Four years after the first survey, in 2019/2020 HiiL conducted a second nationwide Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey (JNS) in Uganda. This was done with the cooperation of the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS). The justice needs of Ugandans have been extensively mapped, providing actionable insights on how to deliver more resolutions for increasing access to justice. Over the course of the research 6.129 Ugandans were interviewed in 40 districts in all four regions of the country.

Legal problems
In 2019, 84% of the people are experiencing that they had at least one legal problem in the four years prior. The most frequently occurring problems in Uganda relate to crime (40%), domestic violence (35%), land (31%), and neighbour-related (29%).

The survey shows that almost 13 million legal problems occur each year in Uganda. Almost 70% of all legal problems do not receive a resolution or get a resolution perceived as unfair. Of those, 4.7 million legal problems are abandoned annually without fair resolution, 1.9 million are ongoing and 2.13 million are considered to be resolved unfairly.

Resolution and impact of legal problems
People try to resolve their problems mostly by engaging third parties, such as the police. Involving the Local Council Courts (LCCs) or formal courts are seen as useful and most helpful in resolving a problem. Providing advice and mediation are the most common mechanisms used in dispute resolution in Uganda. Informal mediation by a third party, like family or friends, is the most common intervention strategy for people who were able to get their problems completely resolved. The preferred resolution intervention of Ugandan people is talking directly to the other party involved in the problem. When offered the possibility of getting help from a third party, Ugandans want it to be face-to-face, fast, and free of charge.

More than half of people experience stress-related illnesses and loss of time and income because of a legal problem. When people use their time to solve a legal problem, they lose hours to work, to take care of their family and their house, to get an education, to relax, or to work on personal development. Solving a legal problem can also cause loss of money, so people can buy less and their purchasing power is lowered.

The JNS findings offer strong support for the innovation directions set by justice leaders and suggest it would be advisable to:

  • Support the Local Council Courts system, and in general, third parties that are neutral in practice;
  • Simplify the justice journeys of the people with most impactful problems;
  • Support formal courts when dealing with land problems;
  • Listen to the people. Promote and support face-to-face help, focused on possible solutions to problems in a fast, fair, and affordable way. Develop guidelines and catalogues for this purpose;
  • Go one step beyond knowing what problems people have and what works in resolving them, by measuring in detail how the resolution of problems improves the lives of Ugandans.

Judges, LCC-members and other justice workers shared their views on improving the resolution processes on three pressing problem categories in Uganda: Land, Crime, and Divorce and Separation. These reports can help people-centred justice delivery and policies, and will empower justice workers to serve people in resolving and preventing disputes.


Land is everything to us. Without it, there will be problems. So, it induces worry and affects even your normal life.

  • 26% of Ugandans experienced land-related justice problems in the past four years
  • Common land problems: disputes over boundaries; ownership and use of land; land grabbing
  • 87% of people seek legal advice – most people consult family members
  • 92% of people use some sort of dispute resolution mechanism
  • 51% are not resolved or are waiting for a resolution

Key findings of this report suggest that land problems need fast and fair resolutions, as essentially, they are social problems that create cycles of distrust and even violence. Informal justice providers, including the Local Council Courts, have a possibility to provide satisfying and fast resolutions. Women need special attention in land justice, as they at risk of experiencing discrimination in resolution processes. Innovation that supports better documentation and agreements can eventually lead to prevention of land problems.


The whole journey of going through criminal justice is a very complicated journey, especially for a layman. The laws are not easy to understand and you don’t understand what you are facing. It becomes hard, trying to access justice.

  • 34% of people have encountered crime in the past four years
  • Common criminal justice problems: theft; burglary, robbery and damage to property
  • 74% of people seek legal advice – most people ask advice from their social networks
  • 77% of people take action to solve their criminal justice problem
  • 64% criminal justice problems are not resolved or waiting for a resolution

Key findings of this report suggest that petty crime prevails in Uganda: theft is almost an everyday phenomenon and people are unable to solve their problems with property crime. Local council courts have jurisdiction over these small crimes, however they are not often utilised. Meanwhile, formal justice providers have long case backlogs. The rate at which crimes are resolved is low: over a half of the crime cases are abandoned. A better balance between the formal and informal justice systems could help to manage large caseloads and provide Ugandans with greater access to justice. We need more local innovation that can help in providing tools to increase the resolution rate of crimes.

Divorce and Separation

The law is very clear, if [the relationship] cannot work out then you can separate. But it is always hard to divorce.

  • 7% of Ugandans have gone through divorce or separation in the past four years
  • 85% of people seek legal advice –  most people ask advice from their social networks
  • 87% of people take legal action to solve their divorce or separation
  • 32% of divorce and separation are left without a formal solution

Key findings of this report show that when faced with divorce or separation, many Ugandans take an active stance. Eighty-four percent look for advice or information on how to resolve the problem. Eighty-seven percent take action by involving the other party or engaging a third party. Most processes of family separation take place outside of formal institutions. Family and community networks is where most people turn for advice and resolution. Institutions are engaged less frequently. Police and Local Council Courts (LCCs) are the most commonly used justice institutions in Uganda, yet their users are relatively few. Even fewer people go to courts and lawyers to resolve their divorce or separation problems.

Half of the Ugandan people who encountered a legal problem related to divorce or separation managed to resolve it fully or partially. The two most often achieved outcomes are safety for the children and prevention of violence in the family. These are positive findings. Our interpretation is that family justice in Uganda works and delivers results. But not everyone receives fair resolution. The other half of the people say that their problem has not been resolved. Relatively few people believe that divorce or separation procedures deliver fair division of property and debt, secure housing and incomes.

Having data available for policy-making and monitoring progress is key for people-centred justice. JLOS, supported by HiiL, brought data from the Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey 2020 into a Justice Dashboard. This dashboard is now extended with data about cases in courts. Also, how people speak about justice problems is captured from social media, offering an almost real-time monitoring of trends in justice needs.

For more in depth and detailed information about the new research: