Local council courts and local conflict resolution : a case of Lubaga Division, Kampala District, Uganda.
The government of Uganda, on realizing that community conflicts could not be handled entirely by the centre, enacted a Local Councils Act, whose operationalization began on 8th June, 2006. The Act established the Local Council Courts for the administration of Justice at the local levels; it was also intended to define the Jurisdictional powers and procedures for the established Courts and other related matters. Laws and guidelines were developed and the Minister of local government issued the Local Councils Courts (Regulations) 2007 aimed at facilitating the operationalization of local councils in their functions related to the administration of Justice. Since their inception, the experiences, challenges, and people's perception of these local councils is not very clear. Overall, the study explores the experiences of local council courts in resolving local conflicts and also comes up with suggestions for more effective resolution of conflicts. The specific objectives are: 1) to identify types of conflict handled; 2) to explain the process of resolving conflicts; 3) to document the degree of satisfaction with the court process and perception of the system's effectiveness; 4) to identify the challenges faced by local council courts system in helping to resolve conflicts; and finally to make suggestions for improving the effectiveness of these courts in resolving conflicts. This study used a cross-sectional descriptive study and employed both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. It was conducted in Lubaga division (LC III), Kampala District and it targeted members of the local courts, community members with a case handled by the local court representatives of collaborating institutions. The findings show that there was no uniform understanding of the phenomenon conflict apart from the community respondents and key informants who almost had similar view to mean 'a misunderstanding between two parties'. The local councils at all levels (LC I, LC II, LC III) were only mandated to handle civil cases. The cases mostly handled were; domestic violence (37/63); rent defaulting (35/63) and land disputes (30/63) .In all these cases the causes were mostly economical, social, cultural and political in nature. The study also found out that most of disputes were being brought willingly to the courts but a small fee levied was unpopular among the community members. The local courts were issued with guidelines to follow although these guidelines fell short of the expectations of the members who wished they could also handle criminal cases. The level of satisfaction with skills and capability of local courts members to handle cases was just above 50% and the reasons advanced were that in most cases the conflicts were usually resolved or settled, and the disputants were always allowed to ask questions. Most of the conflicts were usually resolved through negotiations (37/63) with courts playing a moderating role and encouraging the complainants to reconcile. Local courts were also perceived to be effective in terms of being quick and cost effective. The effectiveness of these courts was also looked at in terms of their ability to handle a wide range of services as reported by 38/63%) of the respondents. Other factors which were advanced as impacting negatively on the effectiveness of these courts include: biasness (36/63); lack of follow up, political interference and to some extent corruption. etc. The key challenges reported were; delivery of services on voluntary basis; lack of coordination between police and local courts; lack of local courts to implement judgments; pressure to make judgments on cases outside the mandate of these courts and the high rates of child offenders yet they were protected the existing laws. In conclusion, generally though not uniform there was a clear and rightful understanding of the term conflict. The local council courts were following the guidelines and were aware of their mandate of handling only civil cases which was a good practice. The approach of local courts endeavoring to solve cases through negotiations was a good one although at times it was reported as a slow process. Overall, communities were satisfied with the local courts and felt that they were effective in handling local conflicts The existing policies should be revised to accommodate: 1) remuneration of local court officials, 2) empowering the local courts to enforce their judgments; 3) clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the local courts vis-à-vis those of the police and 4) reviewing the laws regarding child-offenders less than 18 years of age.