On Friday, the 28th of September 2018, FES organised a half day policy dialogue on the role of Local council courts (LC1) in resolving land disputes. Together with Local council 1 chairpersons, members of parliament and women councillors from four selected districts as well as representatives from the judiciary, civil society and academia, FES analysed the need to improve structures within the Local council 1 and worked out six recommendations.
It was generally noted that Local council courts are highly valued and trusted for their involvement in the community and are very accessible and affordable for all. Through their knowledge about the particulars on local land issues and the use of local languages, they can protect the rights of the most vulnerable groups, like widows, orphans, elderly and even the illiterate, through mediation and even as witnesses in land matters before higher courts.
However as highlighted by Her Worship Roselyn Nsenge, a Magistrate Grade 1 at Law Development Centre Court, the formalised legal jurisdiction of Local council 1 courts in land disputes is very limited. Besides these judicial limitations, Local council 1 courts are confronted with many other challenges, including:
- Their inability to make binding decisions.
- The rising number of land related disputes overwhelming the understaffed and underfunded structures.
- The bearers of these courts lack of awareness of the provisions of the law and procedures due to absence of translated and simplified versions of the law.
- There is an inadequate registration and documentation of cases in these courts.
- Inadequate financial and human resources for daily work, permanent structures for offices, transport and equipment to execute the different mandates of these courts.
- Corruption in the structures.
The panel, consisting of Ms. Sandra Oryema (Legal Aid Manager - Public Interest Law Clinic, Makerere University), Mr. Freddie Mulindwa (Local council I Chairperson form Lwanda Sub county, Rakai District), Mr. Andrew Byomugabi (Local council Chairperson from Buhimba Sub county, Hoima District) and Ms. Jackie Akuno (Principal Legal Officer, Uganda Law Reform Commission) along with a vibrant plenary discussion lead to six recommendations for a better functioning of the Local council 1 court structure to increase access to land justice:
- Empowerment through training, capacity building and massive sensitization of the office bearers in the local council structures.
- Revision, simplification by translation into local language of existing legislation and laws related to Local councils and their mandates.
- Monitoring the local council courts to address and support their performance - ensure that they are well composed because “LC1 courts are committees not a one man show” and independent/ separated from politics.
- Members of Parliament should frequently go to their constituents at the local level – necessary to translate local needs into people centred laws and push for the formalisation of the recognition of Local council 1 mediation efforts in higher formal courts.
- The government was called on to increase the budget for Local council courts to ensure fulfilment of their mandate and to curb bribery and corruption.
- Ministry of Lands was requested to ease the registration processes and enhance provision of land titles, especially customary rights.
Hon. Justice Yorokamu Bamwine, the Principle Judge of Uganda, ended the dialogue by stressing that changes are necessary to ensure access to justice, especially in resolving land disputes through Local council 1 courts. Finally, he called upon the necessity to provide immediate training for the Local council 1s.