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Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Uganda 2022

Second wave of eJNS

March, 2022

In 2021 HiiL, conducted an eJNS study to gather insights about the dynamics of the justice needs of the people of Uganda. An innovative approach was employed — in June-August 2021 respondents were invited through social media or through the users of a legal aid startup, Barefoot law Uganda. Obviously, the results came from a non-random sample and cannot be generalised towards the overall propulation. The intention was to obtain insights about the “access to justice pulse” at the time of Covid-19 pandemic.

At the end of 2021 we conducted a second wave of the study. All respondents from the first study were asked to reflect on their justice needs. Additional respondents were recruited through the two recruitment channels – users of Barefoot Lawyers Uganda and individuals who use particular social media platforms.

This report presents the results of the second wave of the study. We invite the readers to see these results as insights about the current access to justice developments in Uganda.

Key findings


Photo by Julia Filirovska from Pexels

This study uses the same methodological approach that was employed in the first wave. Respondents from two distinct groups were recruited to fill in a short questionnaire. The inclusion of individuals from two different groups in the sample aimed to reduce sample biases. We saw, in wave 1, that the respondents from social media are systematically different from the overall population. Respondents from social media were younger, more educated, more often residents of big cities and most likely also wealthier. On the other hand, the users of the Barefoot Law were older, less educated, and more often living in rural areas. Interviewing samples from these two sources improved the extent to which the non-random sample resembles the overall population.

All respondents from the social media sample who agreed to take part in the second wave were sent emails or mobile phone messages with a link to a questionnaire. 284 respondents from the first wave filled in the second questioonaire. The questionnaire asked about people’s current justice needs, how serious these needs are and what did people do to solve these problems. A quick comparison with HiiL’s previous justice needs studies in Uganda (from 2016 and 2020) show that this is a significantly shorter version of the tool used before. Another peculiarity for this second wave of the study is that individuals who had a pending legal problem in the first wave were asked about the current status of the problem. Another distinction is that we asked about attitudes and willingness to use of a community justice solution which is under development in Uganda.

To address the attrition bias in the second wave we asked 454 new users of social media to tell us about their justice needs.

A similar approach was followed with the sample consisting of users of BFL Uganda. Interviewers from BFL Uganda reached out to the people who were interviewed in the first wave. 760 individuals from the first wave responded to the questionnaire in the second wave. Additional 200 new respondents were interviewed by BFL Uganda and added to the second wave. The questionnaires for all groups are identical.

As stated above both samples are non-random which means that not every member of the adult population of people in Uganda had chance to be selected in the sample. This leads to under or over representation of certain groups. Therefore the results cannot be extended towards the general population. I.e. we cannot be reasonably certain that the same findings are applicable to people who were not interviewed. These results can be used as insights for better understanding of the justice needs in Uganda. The insights are particularly interesting for uncovering the needs for justice in the time of Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the legal problems that people have to deal with in daily life during Covid-19?

Photo by Dazzle Jam from Pexels

Because of the considerable differences identified in the first wave we look at the two samples separately. 

Barefoot Lawyers Sample: Older, rural, less educated sample

Land, domestic violence, crime, family problems, debt, and disputes between neighbours are the most frequently occuring problems by the users of Barefoot Lawyers. According to Barefoot Lawyers most of the individuals from this sample are residents of rural areas. Land is a critical resource for those who are occupied in susbsitence agriculture. Disputes over land rights and tenure are essentially livelihood conflicts. People with lower education are more likely to report land problems. Men also encounter more land-related legal problems compared to women.

Domestic violence is a significant problem in rural uganda. Close to one in three of the respondents from the Barefoot Lawyers’ sample report domestic victimization. There is no significant difference in the experience of domestic violence between men and women which is counterintuitive to the notion that domestic violence affects mostly women.

Education does not significantly affect the experiences of legal problems in this sample.

Social media sample: Younger, urban, more educated respondents

At the end of 2021 the respondents recruited from the social media most often report experiences with debt and money, employment, and family legal problems.

The social media sample consists of two sub-samples. We have 284 respondents from the first wave who responded to the second wave. Additional 454 respondents were recruited for the second wave to compensate for the attrition between the two stages.

There are very few dissimilarities between these two sub-samples. In general, the individuals from both samples report the same types of legal problems.

The level of education has significant impact on the types of legal problems that people from the social media sample encounter.

Not only the categories of problems are different but also the structure of the (multiple chocie) problem distribution of the two samples diverges significantly. 83% of the users of BFL say that they have to deal with legal problems in the past 5-6 months. For comparison, 96% of the individuals recruited through social media report experience with legal problems in this wave of the study. The users of BFL report less problems per person – on average 1.3. Land is their main problem. Domestic violence is also present but almost twice less frequent compared to land. Crimes are resported by 14%. The other categories of legal problems are less frequent.

The distribution of the legal problems reported by individuals recruited via social media is much denser. Two of the problem categories are reported by more than 40% of the respondents with problems (money and employment). Five more problem categories are encountered by more than 20% of the respondents with problems (family problems, disputes between neighbours, ID documents, domestic violence and land). This is another indication that the two samples have quite diffent legal needs.

At the end of 2021 the respondents from the two samples have very similar legal problems compared to 5-6 months earlier in the year. This is true not only for the respondents in the first wave but also for the newly recruited respondents. There is a relatively stable pattern of experiencing legal problems. This study is based on a non-random sample so we cannot extrapolate to the general population but the before and after element as well as the inclusion of new and old participants suggests that there is a steady structure of the legal problems.

Similarly to the first wave there is a stark contrast between the social media and the BFL samples. The younger group recruited through social media reports more typical ‘urban’ problems which reflects their geographic and demographic composition. Debt and employment legal problems are the two most prevalent categories, followed by family disputes and issues with neighbours. Urban women encounter more family-related disputes. Urban men are more likely to face debt and employment problems. On the other hand, the older and more rural sample drawn from the users of Barefoot Lawyers more often has to deal with land issues, domestic violence and crimes.

Comparing between the first and the second waves

The users of Barefoot Lawyers report similar types of problems in the first and the second wave of the study. Land-related problems, domestic violence, and crimes are the three most frequently occuring issues. However, in the second wave there are slightly more people affected by land and domestic violence.

There is very little difference in the legal problems encountered by the first and the second social media sample. Legal problems with debt, employment, family and neighbours top the first five places in both surveys.

In the second wave there is slighly higher reporting of domestic violence and consumer problems.

How are legal problems resolved over time?

In the first wave many respondents said that their legal problem is still ongoing. In the second wave, we asked those respondents about the current status of their legal problem.

Respectively 26% and 35% of BFL and social media respondents said in the first wave that they encountered a legal problem but this problem is still awaiting a resolution. 5-6 months later around 40% of these problems persist and are still not resolved. Individuals from the BFL sample are more likely to say that the problem from the first wave is fully resolved (40%). The social media respondents more often say that the problem is resolved but partially (34%). Relatively small proportion of the problems from the first wave are seen as unresolved and abandoned in the second phase (7% BFL; 10% Social media). In both groups around 30% of the already reported problems remain opened.

These findings have significant policy and service delivery relevance. Case backlogs and time of disposition are among the most pressing problems for the justice institutions in Uganda. The results indicate that the time dimension is important not only for the problems that reach the institutions. Timely resolution is needed for all types of problems. People doubt the value of justice when they have to wait for months to resolve their justice needs. The figures clearly indicate that many problems continue for long periods of time.

Further look into probem resolution and impact of Covid 19 measures

This section provides further insights about the seriousness, the resoluton rates, and relationships between the problems and the Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda.

The problems are quite serious – 7.11 and 6.63. BFL users give lower scores to the seriousness of the problems. For instance, the most prevalent problem – Land has average seriousness of 6.8 which is not too different from the mean seriousness.

BFL users say that respectively 33% and 23% of their legal problems are partially or fully resolved. When we ask “What part of the problem has been resolved?” the resolution picture seems more sober. Only 14% of the problems are seen as resolved to in a large extent and another 19% are resolved to some extent. More than two thirds of the problems are resolved insufficiently.

The perceived linkages between the problem and the Covid-19 pandemic is another area of considerable difference between the BFL and Social media users. 60% of the BFL users do not see a difference between the problem and the Covid pandemic.
There is different dynamic with the users from social media. More of half of those who have problems think that the legal problem has been caused by the pandemic. Even if the problem has not been affected by the pandemic, 57% of the respondents from the social media sample say that the pandemic has worsened the problem. Significantly less – 42% of the BFL sample say that the problem aggravated due to the Covid-19 restrictions.


Photo by Emris Joseph from Pexels

About the authors

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

We are thankful for the support of Edith Nakiyaga, Rachael Ampaire Mishambi-Wamahe and Michelle Ton.  Barefoot Law and House of DJs helped us in gathering the data for this report.

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