Legal Framework for Local Council Courts
The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provided for the creation of Local Councils courts ("LCC") as part of the decentralization of power. LCCs are the lowest units with administrative, legislative, and judicial powers on behalf of central governments. LCCs are established under the Executive Committees (Judicial Powers) Act and there are three levels of the Committee courts – "sub county" (level 3), "parish" (level 2) and "village" and appeals from the highest of the Committees, (Sub County executive) lie to the Chief Magistrate and, if the appeal involves a substantial question of law or appears to have caused a substantial Miscarriage of justice, to the High Court.
The courts are generally composed of five members of their jurisdiction chosen by the respective executive council of that area apart from the village and parish courts where all the members of the executive council of either the village or parish form the court. At least two of the members of each of these courts should be women
LCCs normally handle cases involving plaintiffs who cannot afford court fees. It is difficult for majority of population in Uganda to access justice in the formal court system because they can not afford the costs of litigation.
Under the current law, that is the Act, Cap 8, section 5, the Local Council Courts' jurisdiction is restricted to where the value of the subject matter in dispute does not exceed UGX 5,000 (five thousand shillings). However, these courts' jurisdiction is not restricted by the monetary values in respect of causes and matters on conversion or damage to property, trespass, land disputes relating to a customary tenure, disputes concerning marital status of women, disputes concerning paternity of children, disputes concerning identity of customary heirs, impregnating a girl under 18 years of age, elopement with a girl under 18 years of age and customary bailment.
Section 6 of the Executive Committees (Judicial Powers) Act, Cap 8 states that a village executive committee (LC I) shall have criminal jurisdiction to try a child accused of any of the following offenses:
(a) affray, under section 79 of the Penal Code Act;
(b) an offence against section 167 with the exception of paragraph (b) of the Penal Code Act;
(c) common assault, under section 235 of the Penal Code Act;
(d) actual bodily harm under section 236 of the Penal Code Act;
(e) theft, under section 254 of the Penal Code Act;
(f) criminal trespass, under section 302 of the Penal Code Act;
(g) malicious damage to property, under section 335 of the Penal Code Act.
A Local Council Court 1 may, notwithstanding any penalty prescribed by the Penal Code Act in respect of the offenses stated above involving children, make an order for any of the following relief:
- community service;
In addition to the relief mentioned above, the Local Council Court may make a guidance order under which the child shall be required to submit himself or herself to the guidance, supervision, advise and assistance of a person designated by the court. A guidance order shall be for a maximum period of six months.
LCCs are one of the most accessible justice mechanisms in contemporary Uganda. Many of the studies conducted on LCCs revealed that LCCs are much more trusted by local population, since they are heavily inclined towards reconciliation and dispute resolution. However, there is still a lot of efforts needed in order to promote the rule of law for rural people, where LCCs operate.