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Justice Needs and Satisfaction in Uganda 2021

Innovative Measuring in Times of Covid-19 Pandemic

August, 2021

Key findings

Introduction -
Why did we conduct this study?

The year 2020 saw the unfolding of a crisis of immense proportions. The Covid-19 pandemic affected each and every aspect of life in Uganda – health, livelihood, housing and justice. Uganda also underwent major civic changes with the presidential elections. This study presents data about the legal problems of people in Uganda during the Covid-19 pandemic. We used an innovative approach to gather data about the justice needs and experience of hundreds of people.

This study brings forward current and actionable data on access to justice. The data corroborates the results of the two larger surveys that HiiL conducted in Uganda, in partnership with JLOS, in 2015 and 2019. The findings of both studies show that the majority of the country’s population — respectively 88% and 84% had to deal with serious legal issues.

The main objectives of this study are as follows:

How did we gather data?

Image –

We wanted to know people’s experience of justice problems in their everyday life. We asked ordinary (18+) individuals to recount their needs for justice in the 12 months prior to the interview. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not possible to conduct the survey with a regular random sample that can represent the studied population. We also wanted to experiment with rapid and agile data collection.

To achieve the goals of the study we recruited adult (18+) respondents in the survey through two strategies. First, we interviewed 794 respondents via advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. The advertisements targeted Ugandan users. We invited them to fill in a short of 5-10 minutes self-administered online questionnaire. 

To motivate participants to take part in the survey, we provided a monetary incentive where 20 randomly selected participants would receive 200,000 Ugandan shillings. We advertised the survey between March and July 2021.

The findings of the survey indicate that social media users are younger, more educated, and most likely urban. The internet penetration in Uganda is low - at 23%, so there is a serious bias in a self-selected sample drawn from social media.

To mitigate this risk and to balance the sample we implemented a second strategy. We enlisted the support of Barefoot Law -- an entrepreneurial NGO working on legal awareness and solving problems with various forms of advice. The team of Barefoot Law interviewed 1186 individuals from their user-base in local communities. These are people who attended legal awareness sessions conducted by Barefootlaw (BFL), asked questions via sms, phone lines, in person, or on the internet.

To negate the bias in the sample, we weighted the participation of each respondent on two criteria - gender and age. Under-represented groups received higher weights so the results come closer to the actual population.

Sample characteristics

A brief glance at the sample properties reveals that the sample consists of two distinct groups: the “Social media group” which includes respondents from Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and those that BFL interviewed, the “BFL group”. Majority of the respondents from the Social media group are younger and well educated and most likely live in urban areas whereas people from the BFL group are older and less educated, and likely live in smaller towns and villages.


As stated above, this sample is not representative for the Ugandan population. Therefore we do not extrapolate sample statistics towards larger populations. The findings should be taken as ongoing observations and trends based on interviews with a group of people who in different ways might be systematically different from the general population.

Legal problems in the last 12 months

83% of the respondents have experienced at least one legal problem in the past year. The results correspond to the recent JNS studies from 2015 and 2019.

On average, people experience two legal problems in a span of 12 months.

Types of legal problems

The most common legal problems of people are those related to land, debt and money, domestic violence, employment and family issues. That said, the kind of justice problems that people face vary considerably according to the sample group and demographics.

On an average, on a scale 1 (low) to  (high)respondents rate the seriousness of all categories of legal problems is  7.38.

Focus on the most serious legal problems

Along with the most frequent legal problems, we asked people which legal problems they perceive to be most serious. All in all, people perceive problems related to land, domestic violence and debt as most serious.

A more granular look at the data reveals that the most serious problems differ for the BFL and Social media group. For the BFL group problems related to land, followed by domestic violence and crimes are most serious. On the other hand, the most serious problems of the Social media group are employment followed by debt and money, and land in third place.

The most serious problems of men and women differ. For women, the most serious legal problems are related to employment, debt and money, and family relationships whereas for men, they are debt and money, employment, and obtaining ID documents.

Covid-19 and legal problems

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

The respondents associate many of the legal problems from the last year to the pandemic.

Тhe impact of Covid-19, however, differs considerably in the two sub-samples. Younger, educated urbanites from the Social media group report more problems that have resulted directly or indirectly from Covid. The pandemic is less of a problem for the people from the more rural group.

Even when the Covid-19 Pandemic was not the primary cause of the problem, half of the reported problems worsened as a result of the pandemic. The Social media group is affected more harshly – close to two out of three problems of respondents in the social media group worsened.

How do people resolve [their most serious] legal problems?

Video – JustaCliq

We asked respondents if they interacted with the other party to the dispute to resolve their most serious legal problem. Most (83%) of them say that they contacted the other party to resolve the problem. However, data indicates that speaking to the other party is not the most effective way to resolve the problem given that less than half of them came to an agreement after speaking to the other party. 

Family members are most often engaged in the resolution of legal problems in Uganda. Another informal source – friends –  are the second most popular source of help

Among institutions – Police and Local Council Courts – are engaged most often in the resolution of legal problems.

Very few legal problems ever reach a court of law. Lawyers are also not used very often when the people need to resolve a legal problem. However, the Social media sub-group seeks help from lawyers considerably more often compared with the BFL group.

How fair is justice in people’s eyes?

Video – Roy Hessey

Nearly half of the legal problems are resolved in a very fair or fair way. The other half, however, has not been resolved fairly.

Across all problem categories, a quarter of the respondents reveal that the problem was completely resolved and another quarter say that the problem was partially resolved.

The procedural justice aspects of dispute resolution such as voice, respect and information are important in determining people’s satisfaction with the dispute resolution process. Their experience of most of these indicators is somewhat positive. On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), respondents grade being able to tell their story as 3.44, respectful interactions as 3.07, and clarity of the dispute resolution process as 3.12.

At 2.87, people do not spend a lot of money on the paths to justice. However, the cost of the lost time is more considerable – 3.71 (out of 5). Stress is the most difficult part of the justice journey. At 4.15, respondents report the experience of stress during the process of resolving legal problems as very high.

What outcomes people receive from legal problems?

People who resolved their problems told us if they understood what happened, received compensation for harms and damages after the problem was resolved, whether they think such a problem is likely to occur again and if there was an improvement in relationships. We have visualised their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5. Following is the way to interpret the scale:

We measured people’s satisfaction level on outcomes such as an understanding of the problem and dispute resolution, compensation for damages, likelihood that a problem will occur again and improvement in relationships.The dark blue bar represents people’s expectations from the resolution of the problem and the long blue line represents what they actually achieved. The gap between the long blue line and the dark blue bar shows the gap between people’s expectations and achieved outcomes.

From the graph, we can see that the compensation that people received was below their expectations. Same goes for people’s understanding of the outcome. People’s understanding of the outcome was below what their expectations were. Comparatively, people were more satisfied with improvement in relationships and probability of such a problem occurring again.

Of all the outcomes that respondents received, their expectations are met the least on compensation for harms.

Anticipated legal problems

We asked the respondents who did not encounter legal problems in the past one year about their expectations for the next year. 62% see a high likelihood of experiencing a legal problem.

The main three problems that people anticipate will increase are those related to land (27%), crime (13%) and employment (10%). The problems that people least expect to increase are those related to welfare benefits (3%), ID documents (2%) and housing (2%).

Problems that the BFL and Social media group anticipate are different. The BFL group anticipates problems related to land, crime and domestic violence to increase whereas the Social media group anticipates problems related to employment, debt and consumers to increase.

Comparing justice throughout the years

In this chapter we provide а comparison of the key parameters of people’s justice needs and justice journeys in Uganda. Data from three studies (2015, 2019 and 2021) is used. It should be noted that the questions and data collection methods do not overlap and therefore the results should rather be seen as trends than true longitudinal comparisons.

The structure of the legal problems that people experience in their everyday lives remains very similar. The prevalence rates of the legal problems are also comparable albeit in 2015 and 2019 we asked about 4 years time period and only about1 year in 2021. In 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic we see less crimes but more employment disputes, debt problems and issues around ID documents.

In 2021 the drastic change is in the resolution of legal problems. During the pandemic, less issues are considered fully resolved or completely abandoned. In the latest survey, many of the legal problems are either partially resolved or are in a process of resolution.

Mixed results emerge when we look at the quality of the process and outcomes of the justice journeys. The ability to have voice in procedures fluctuates from 2015 to 2021. There is a downward trend in the perceived respect that people receive on the paths to justice. Similarly, the distributive fairness declines slightly from 2015 to 2021. Again, caution is needed when comparing and interpreting these trends.


In the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, many people in Uganda continue to encounter legal problems in their daily life. More than 4 out of 5 adults reported that they had to deal with at least one legal problem. The sample is not representative but indicates a massive amount of legal problems.

About half of people’s legal problems are resolved. This finding has a positive meaning – many legal problems are resolved. But it also suggests that a considerable number of legal problems do not reach a fair resolution. Their negative consequences are not remedied with legal means. Many of these unresolved situations have grave effects on the lives of the Ugandans. The high prevalence of legal problems and the considerable proportion of unresolved problems require concerted effort by the formal and informal justice sector stakeholders. Their primary focus should be to bridge the justice gap and to make sure that people receive justice when they need it.

In Uganda, there is notable knowledge and experience in delivering evidence-based justice. JLOS and its institutional members are committed to data and institutional performance. There is also a good example of bridging informal and formal justice with effective hybrid models. Uganda has had a vibrant justice entrepreneurship environment in recent years. All these resources can generate solutions that deliver people-centered justice. 

Covid-19 and the measures around it play a significant role. Forty percent of the legal problems reported by the participants in the study are considered to be the result of Covid. Other legal problems, even though not considered to be the direct result, are seen as aggravated by the pandemic. The types of the legal problems caused or worsened by Covid-19 are employment, domestic violence, housing, and debt. A previous HiiL survey with justice stakeholders already indicated that exactly these are the kind of problems expected to occur. 

A key finding of the study is the suggestion that legal problems and their resolution is largely contingent on socio-demographic characteristics. Two distinct groups of respondents in the sample experience different types of problems and resolve them with different means. Clearly, in the access to justice, one size does not fit all. The key implication for the justice sector institutions and the related policies is that effective solutions can be built on deep knowledge about the problems that different groups of people encounter. This is an essential part of the growing movement for People-Centered Justice.

Beyond its substantive learnings, the study advances the methodologies for bottom-up study of access to justice. It is based on a creative way to monitor justice through a non-representative sample of respondents. Despite the lack of randomization in the selection process we see a high level of convergence with the results of previous studies. This gives us stable ground to explore the method further. A second wave of interviews is eminent and will soon add to the existing body of knowledge on people-centered justice in Uganda.

About the authors

Dr. Martin Gramatikov, Director Measuring Justice

Manasi Nikam, Knowledge Management Officer.

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.

Table of Contents


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