The Ugandan Legal System

I Introduction

The legal system in Uganda is based on the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda enacted in 1995, with most of the laws having originally been developed from English law. The system especially with respect to Company Law, commercial redress and contracts is   therefore broadly compatible with those, which are founded on Anglo Saxon principles.

 II Administration of Justice in Uganda

Uganda’s Court System

Local Council Courts

Established under and governed by the Resistance Committee (Judicial Powers) Statute No. 1 1988.

S.4 of the Statute

  1. i) Civil matters specified in the First Schedule, i.e., debts, contracts, assault and or battery, trespass, conversion and or damage to property. For assault, contracts and assault, the value of the subject matter in dispute should not exceed shillings five thousand (Ushs. 5,000/=).

(ii)        Civil matters governed only by customary law specified in the Second Schedule i.e. land disputes (customary tenure), marital status of women, paternity of children, identity of customary heirs, elopement and customary bailment.

(iii)       Causes and matters arising out of infringement of bye-laws duly made under the provisions of the Resistance Committee and Committees Statute, 1987.  For (I) and (ii) above the courts may order for: reconciliation, declaration, compensation, restitution costs, apology, attachment and sale. For (iii) above the courts may impose a fine or any penalty authorized by the bye-law S.7.

Appeals: These lie from these Local Council courts to the Chief Magistrates Courts and from here to the High Court S.26 (1) and (2).

Magistrates Courts

Governed mainly by the Magistrates Courts Act (MCA) 1970. S.2.  These courts fall into four grades:

  1. Chief Magistrate
  2. Magistrate Grade I
  3. Magistrate Grade II
  4. Magistrate Grade III

Jurisdiction:  All the grades have jurisdiction to try all suits of civil nature except where their cognisance is expressly or impliedly barred.  The courts also have jurisdiction to try matters relating to customary disputes – S.9 (MCA).

Criminal matters:  Magistrate courts have a general power to try criminal cases, subject to Sections 158 of the Act.  The Chief Magistrate may try any offence except those for which the maximum penalty is death, and may pass any sentence authorized by law.  A Magistrate Grade I may try any offence other one for which the maximum penalty is death or imprisonment for life, and may pass a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding ten years or a fine not exceeding shillings one million or both such imprisonment and fine.

Magistrate Grade II may pass a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand or both.  Magistrate Grade III may pass a sentence of imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding shillings two hundred and fifty thousand or both.

The Courts of Judicature

Under Article 129 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, judicial powers are exercised by the Courts of Judicature which consist of:

  1. a) the Supreme Court
  2. b) the Court of Appeal
  3. c) the High Court
  4. d) such subordinate courts as Parliament may by law establish, including Qadhis’ courts for marriage, divorce, inheritance of property and guardianship.


This is the final court of appeal.  An appeal lies to the Supreme Court from such decisions of the Court of Appeal as prescribed by law.


An appeal lies to the Court of Appeal from such decisions of the High Court as prescribed by law.

The Court of Appeal is the Constitutional Court.


Has unlimited original jurisdiction in all matters and such appellate and other jurisdiction as may be conferred on it by the Constitution or other laws of Uganda.


This post was established by Statute No. 2 of 1988 (IGG Statute).  It is headed by the Inspector General of Government (IGG), who acts as government ombudsman. The main functions of this office are as follows:

To fight corruption, abuse of human rights and abuse of office

To promote the rule of law in Uganda.

To perform any other functions prescribed by the President.

The IGGs office has the following powers:

To initiate investigations.

To search premises

To summon people to appear before it, administer oaths to them.

To issue warrants for any person to appear before it.

Appeals Procedures:

Appeals:  Shall lie to the High Court from trial from a Chief Magistrate or Magistrate Grade I.  Also to the Chief Magistrate from a Magistrate Grade II and III.


A Chief Magistrate shall have jurisdiction where the value of the subject matter does not exceed Shs. 5,000,000 and unlimited jurisdiction in cases of conversion, damage to property or trespass.  Magistrate Grade I has jurisdiction where the value does not exceed Shs. 2,000,000/=.  Magistrate Grade II – where the value does not exceed Shs.500,000/=.  Magistrate Grade III – where the value does not exceed Shs. 250,000/=.


From Chief Magistrates courts and Magistrate Grade I in exercise of its original jurisdiction, to the High Court From Magistrates Grade II and III to a Chief Magistrates Court.  From decrees or orders passed by a Chief Magistrate on appeal, to the High Court.

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