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Bataka Court Model

Photo by Bataka Court

Community Justice Services – Policy Brief / Case: Bataka Court Model

Key fact and figures

Year of establishment
Scope of service
Civil justice problems and petty crime
Geographical scope
2 districts in Uganda
Legal entity
Privately run foundation
Type of justice problems addressed:
Civil justice problems including disputes related to land, family, neighbours and petty crime
Regulatory embeddedness
Costs of services for citizens (average and range)
Free, no cost


Bataka Courts literally translated as ‘Ordinary Citizens Courts’ is a community justice service based in Kagadi district of Uganda. It aims to increase access to justice for the poor by enabling local leaders to deliver justice services. It was conceptualised in the year 2012 with the support from DFID and ODI when these institutions were looking for innovative models that can provide access to justice for the poor in low income countries. It was implemented by World Voices Uganda with support of Overseas Development Institute and Development Research and Training, a non-for-profit organisation based in Uganda in 2014. 

Bataka Courts addresses civil justice problems such as disputes related to land, family, neighbours and petty crime [1].

The justice gap in Uganda is sizable. The Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey 2019 conducted by HiiL indicated that about 84% of the people in Uganda experienced a legal problem in the past four years [2]. Additionally, access to lawyers for Ugandans is also limited. Since 85% of lawyers are concentrated in the capital city ‘Kampala’, the majority of the Ugandans don’t have access to lawyers [3]. Given the inaccessibility of lawyers and high rate of justice problems, a large percentage of the population relies on informal justice services to resolve disputes [4].

Justice leaders in Uganda are also promoting informal justice services to fill the justice gap. Hon Justice Duncan Gaswaga, the Deputy Head of the Commercial Division of the High Court of Uganda recognised informal justice systems such as community courts as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that are faster, cheaper and accessible to Ugandans [5].

In such a scenario, Bataka Courts have a significant role to play in bridging the justice gap. “[They] are based within communities, matters are decided quickly and there are no legal or court costs. Their decisions emphasise reconciliation and social harmony” [6].

In this report, we outline various aspects of the service delivery model of Bataka Courts, how it has streamlined monitoring outcomes, its impact on the lives of Ugandans and its marketing and financial model. We also outline the challenges that Bataka Courts faces in scaling and factors that make it a successful model of community justice services. Since not much literature is available on it, the information for this report has been drawn from an interview and discussion with Gard Benda, Director at World Voices Uganda who played a leading role in the implementation of Bataka Courts.

Programme Description

World Voices Uganda (2020) and Benda (n.d) provide a comprehensive description of the Bataka Courts model [7]. The following paragraphs provide a summary of it.

“Each court has a panel of seven elders who are well respected in the community. The elders should not have a criminal record and should be willing to volunteer as a witness. Community members can directly report a problem to any of the elders who then convene a meeting with other community members. The meeting is conducted in the home of the elder who calls the meeting or any other central meeting place to which the disputing parties have agreed to.

The proceedings of the court are conducted in the local language to make sure everyone understands them. Since Kagadi is a multi-ethnic community, an interpreter is appointed to ensure that those who speak another language are also heard. Once the disputing parties present their case, community members are allowed to raise questions, seek clarifications, add information that is relevant to the dispute and offer their points of view. The case is heard for a period of three weeks where an inquisitorial approach is taken to establish the facts of the case. Once all aspects of the dispute have been discussed, the elders intervene. Elders are required to arrive at a consensus before making the final decision.

The elders provide remedies such as requiring the offender to issue a public apology, participating in community service, compensation for victims of wrongs, restitution, simple refund and recovery of debt and property and compensation. The decisions of the elders are binding for as long as the disputing parties accept it. If the disputing parties are dissatisfied with the outcome, then can report it within a span of 14 days. If the parties would like to escalate the dispute to the formal justice system, the Bataka Courts issue a referral after which the case proceedings start afresh”.

Linking formal and informal justice system

Bataka Courts have integrated with the formal justice system and law enforcement agencies successfully to a large extent. The Local Council Courts — a government-driven community justice service in Uganda, Magistrates who preside over district courts, the police and a few other administrative bodies refer cases to the Bataka Courts [8]. “Between 2012 and 2016, over 60 cases were referred to the BC by the Grade1 Magistrates Court in Kagadi, 56 cases were referred from Police, 42 cases from Local Councils, and 16 cases from district institutions” [9].

Findings from the discussion with Gard Benda (2021) also indicate that Bataka Courts have collaborated with the formal justice system to improve upon its service delivery model in various ways.

Scaling the organisation

Bataka Courts was piloted in the sub-counties of Kyaterekera and Ruteete in Kagadi district. World Voices Uganda later scaled it to ten other sub-counties of Kagadi district and into neighbouring districts of  Kyegegwa [12]. To make citizens aware of the services delivered by Bataka Courts and to attract users, the World Voices Uganda uses radio programmes and the operation manuals that are distributed among everyday people. But the main factor that prevents it from scaling to all districts in Uganda is scarcity of funding [13].

Impact of the organisation

Recent data on the number of cases resolved by Bataka Courts is not available. A report by World Voices Uganda (2020) indicates that between June 2019 and September 2019, in a span of three months, Bataka Courts resolved 155 cases. It indicates that the functionaries of the formal justice system, such as the police, magistrates of the district court are satisfied with the performance of Bataka Courts. A Magistrate from Kibaale says, 

“[Bataka Courts are] doing great work. The community refers to the BC as the first response group, before they even report to the police [14].

A police official remarked “BCs seem more appealing to the community. They are direct. They are fast. All win and the people are happy [15]..”

Although this is anecdotal evidence, these quotes from legal professionals indicate that the community is satisfied with the speed and efficacy of the services provided by Bataka Courts. As discussed earlier, given that magistrates, police and Local Council Courts refer cases to Bataka Courts, it can also be inferred that Bataka Courts have reduced the backlog of cases experienced by these law enforcement agencies. 

Financial strategy of the organisation

Bataka Courts continues to be financially supported by World Voices Uganda [16]. It has received funding from HiiL’s Justice Accelerator in 2019 [17]. Being a community justice service that addresses justice needs of the poor and marginalised, it  does not charge user fees to disputing parties and panel members who preside over the court do so voluntarily. However, the panel members who host the public gatherings and hearings where cases are resolved, have to offer refreshments to all those gathered, as a result of which they incur expenses. All in all, Bataka Courts is currently funded through volunteer labour and donor funding and is yet to explore other sources of funding such as from the government, that can help in achieving financial sustainability.

Lessons learnt

Lessons that can be taken from the experience of setting up Bataka Courts are:

Critical Success Factors

Factors that played a critical role in the success of Bataka Courts are : 


This case has been developed by the HiiL team based on discussions with Gard Benda on August 12, 2021.

[1] World Voices Uganda, (2020). Capacity assessment of informal justice actors in delivering justice: Compliance with constitutional required and international human rights standards.

[2] HiiL (2019). Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey, Uganda.

[3] The Justice Law and Order Sector, 2012. Draft Uganda Legal Aid Policy.

[4] HiiL (2019). Justice Needs and Satisfaction Survey, Uganda.

[5] Democratic Governance Facility. (2020). Informal justice mechanisms commended from promoting justice (Blog).

[6] Ssebunya, A. K. (2014). Why local realities matter for Citizens’ Voice and Accountability. Lessons from Mwananchi Uganda pilot projects. Field Actions Science Reports, 11, 1-7.

[7] World Voices Uganda, (2020).; Benda, N.G. (n.d). Bataka Court Model: Operational Manual. World Voices Uganda.

[8] Discussion with Gard Benda and working group members, 2021.

[9] World Voices Uganda, 2020, pg. 31.

[10] World Voices Uganda, (2020).

[11]  Discussion with Gard Benda and working group members, 2021.

[12] World Voices Uganda, (2020).

[13]  World Voices Uganda, (2020).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] HiiL, (2022). Advancing people-centred justice in Uganda: where are we seven years later? (Blog).