“…in the bataka court we help resolve non-criminal cases in the community out of formal court and police; we work for our communities at no cost… We do not act as judges and that is why we involve the community members in all the decisions we make and for cases we cannot handle we refer to police and they advise us on the way forward. When a case is brought to us we make sure everything is written down and all the people present including community members sign the attendance list. We also make a report on all the cases we have solved and present it to World Voices Uganda. From the time we were brought on board and trained there has been a big change in the community; people know where to report and no longer carry out mob justice.” Josephat explains how the bataka courts operate.
Josephat Byamukama, 40 years, a father of six is a resident of Nyakarongo village and a member of the ‘Bataka court’ in Kisura parish-Kibale district. The Bataka courts model is a community based informal justice system that was piloted and adopted by communities in Ruteete and Kyatereka Sub counties in Kibale district to enhance access to justice. The courts are facilitated by seven elders selected by the community to promote justice and resolve conflict. Community members are invited to the open court and actively participate in the proceedings. The courts mostly handle civil cases and report more serious criminal cases to other authorities like the police. In 2015 alone, the ‘Bataka courts’ solved up to 125 non-criminal cases in the communities they operate.
Despite being a member of the bataka court, Josephat personally benefited from the court when he had a land dispute case. Josephat had bought a plot of land equivalent to 25metersX150meters in Katikengere centre at UGX 700,000. A clear written agreement was made and there were witnesses including the area chairman. After everything had been settled and Josephat had even started developing the land, the seller came back and asked for more money. Luckily, Josephat had kept the sale agreement which he showed him and explained that the he (the seller) had agreed to UGX 700,000 only for the land and there were several witnesses present. Dissatisfied, the seller took the issue to the Bataka court members. The members visited the site of the land in dispute to ascertain the actual size and they also reviewed the sale agreement. They called for a meeting where the court sat independently and resolved that Josephat had got the land legally and that the seller should not ask for more money since he already signed a written agreement with evidence that Josephat had fully paid for the land which is now his property. After subsequent mediation and counselling, the seller agreed to the court’s decision and both parties are now on good terms.