Approaches and Innovations in the Provision of Legal Services in Sub-Saharan Africa


Authors:1Kakuru Timothy, 1Sendi Emmanuel, 1Kennedy Kasozi, 1Irene, 1Gertrude Lamunu, 2Ruth Kigozi, 3 Joan Mati, 4 Joseph Lughano


1 BarefootLaw Uganda

2 Research for Transformation

3 Mati Mati & Mati Advocates

4. Haki Institute


Abstract: 2

Introduction 2

Methodology 2

Innovation definition 2

Participants 2

Data Collection 2

Crowdsourcing 2

Key Informant Interviews 2

Survey 2

Research findings. 2

1. Crowd Sourcing Results 2

Table 1: showing the results from Crowdsourcing in Uganda 2

Table 2: Crowdsourcing results from Kenya 2

Table 3: Crowdsourcing results from Malawi 2

2. Survey results 2

Demographics 2

Gender Disaggregation of survey respondents 2

Age distribution 2

Education Levels 2

Use of technology to access legal information. 2

Provision of legal help resources at various public places 2

Attitudes and Perspectives of survey respondents 2

Innovations noted from key informant interviews. 2

Ways Govt/NGO’s have improved access to justice. 2

Ways Govt/NGO’s have used technology to improve access to justice. 2

Recommendations to improve access to justice from users. 2

Discussion 2

Conclusion 2


In  Sub Saharan Africa, where access to legal services is limited despite a growing population, innovative approaches are essential. Legal services extend beyond courtroom matters to encompass legal education and empowerment before disputes arise. With only a small number of licensed attorneys serving a large population, enhancing accessibility to quality legal services is crucial for empowering individuals to prevent or resolve legal issues. However, research on grassroots legal innovations and their impact remains limited. This study aims to identify grassroots innovations in Uganda, Malawi, and Kenya, assess their impact, and explore their potential applicability elsewhere. To ensure impartiality, a crowdsourcing approach was used to identify innovative legal service providers, ensuring representation from diverse perspectives. Recognizing and rewarding innovators is crucial for fostering a culture of beneficial service provision and facilitating societal progress.


The term legal services describe to a range of services that is extremely hard to define because of how broad it can be in certain circumstances and how narrow it is in others. In the context of a law firm, legal services provided may only range between legal advisory and court representation for clients in litigation. In the case of a shelter for battered women, it will entail legal education about victims’ rights, social and economic support to support with instituting legal proceedings, because that is what the clients need. What legal services are has evolved tremendously over the last decade or so in Africa, as has the identification of who can provide them. From being almost entirely the preserve of lawyers and judges in the hallowed halls of court houses, the legal services territory has been opened to paralegals, volunteers, and technologists- each of these groups bringing new approaches to how legal services can be provided, and with them innovation and new ways of thinking being introduced.

To date, there is limited research about what innovations in law are, how they serve the societies in which they are implemented and how the serviced communities receive them. Most research in related fields has centered on access to justice generally- who can access the police, or courts of law, and why those who are not able to access the formal structures have challenges. The focus has been on the formal justice system and rarely touched on the informal.

We hypothesize therefore, that legal services of the informal nature, especially when innovative have got a supplementary nature to the formal justice system and if enabled to succeed, may be able to help reduce challenges that the formal justice system has not been able to overcome such as court backlog, mistrust of the legal system, ignorance of the law and mob justice.


Innovation definition

In this study, innovation was defined as a process, a domain, a product, or a service renewed and/or brought up to date by applying new processes, introducing new techniques or business models, or establishing successful ideas to improve access to justice.


Innovators as participants were recruited through crowdsourcing methodology where we asked the public to nominate a legal service provider at the grassroots level that they considered most innovative and successful with their service to the public. The public was able to nominate their favorite grassroots legal service providers and after a process of vetting, a final selection from each country was selected to be participants in the second part of the research project.

Data Collection

Data collection was conducted at justice convergence points like police, court, and through no government organizations who deal in innovating for marginalized communities with a focus on access to justice. A questionnaire originally developed was used to collect the data using “Paper and Pencil Interview” methodology as Computer assisted method were not viable at the point of conducting the data collection.


This enabled the identification of innovations among actors operating in the formal and informal justice sectors. It resulted in diversified sources of data compared to those that would have been obtained if only traditional research methods were used. The research team defined the innovation challenge, designed the communication and promotion strategies for the contest and published it. The crowdsourcing contest was conducted for 3 weeks in each country (Uganda, Kenya and Malawi). The challenge was advertised on all BarefootLaw media outlets, organization website, and social media (Facebook and Twitter (later X). The advert was also run on partner organization platforms such as websites, social media, and radios where available. At the end of this process scoring was done by a team of 5 professionals from each country, the lead researcher and the BarefootLaw staff with expertise in legal matters, community engagement and communication.

The evaluation criteria included scoring innovativeness, affordability, effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability. Voting was done through Twitter (now X), Facebook, and SMS for non-smartphone users. The Microsoft Forms App was used for Twitter and other online locations.

Key Informant Interviews

Key Informant Interviews were conducted with heads (or their designate) of key stakeholders and leading legal service providers to the vulnerable/ marginalized and other communities in need. Twelve key informants were interviewed in each country.


A public survey was carried out where the study participants were justice service provider users, above 18 years of age reporting to community legal advocacy and outreach organizations, police posts, magistrates and local council courts located in four regions.

A questionnaire was developed, piloted and interviewers trained before deployment for field data collection.

The survey was carried out at the following categories of institutions; High Court, Police stations, Chief Magistrates Courts, Grade 1 Courts, Justice Centers, and NGO offices. The areas of data collection in Uganda were in Peri Urban and Urban areas of Kampala, Luwero, Jinja, Mbale, Gulu and Soroti. In Malawi the areas of data collection were diverse, covering Urban, peri urban and rural settings (Lilongwe, Machinga, Nkhota Bay and Rumphi). In Kenya the places of data collection were in Urban and Peri Urban (Nairobi, Kajiado, Mombasa)

Research findings.

Crowd Sourcing Results

In Uganda, 40 nominations of legal service providers were submitted. 6 of those nominations were selected for public voting after a rigorous due diligence process that included interviewing a shortlisted number of applicants. 1,860 votes were cast. The results of the votes were as shown in the Table below.


Number of Votes

Centre for Technology Dispute Resolution


Concern for the Girl Child


Kuman Youth Development Group


Friends In Need.


Justice Defenders.


Centre for Criminology.


Table 1: showing the results from Crowdsourcing in Uganda

In Kenya, there were 42 nominations of legal service providers submitted. 6 of these nominations were selected for public voting after the vetting committee carried out a due diligence process which consisted of background checks and interviews of the shortlisted applicants. 10,799 votes were cast. The results of the votes are as shown in the table below.


Number of Votes

Nyando Social Justice


Kisumu Mediation Centre


Dispute Resolution Hub


Sairo Law Global


Muslim Education Welfare Association


AJS Kajiado


Table 2: Crowdsourcing results from Kenya

In Malawi, there were 21 nominations of legal service providers submitted. Only 4 were submitted compared to the nominees in Kenya and Uganda. The reason for this was that the vetting committee considered only these four innovative enough to meet the criteria set. It was an eye-opening situation for the team, realizing that innovation isn’t always necessarily happening everywhere at the grassroots. 2,321 votes were cast and the results of the top three are as shown below:


Number of Votes

HUB 22


Chikulamayembe Women Forum


Youth Response for Social Change


The Timtendere foundation






Table 3: Crowdsourcing results from Malawi

Survey results.


In total, 499 participants were surveyed in person in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi. As the surveys were carried out through in-person interviews, the sample completion rate was 100%.

Geographical representation of the spread of the survey respondents.

The results pertaining to community opinions and perceptions refers to this group comprising of 216 females and 283 males with a mode age category of 18-30 years (43.9%) representing individuals from Kenya Uganda and Malawi.

Gender Disaggregation of survey respondents

In Uganda, more males responded to the survey than in Malawi, while in Malawi, more females responded compared to their male counterparts.

Age distribution

Survey respondents skewed toward younger age categories (18-30 years) as opposed to higher age categories.

Education Levels

Most of the respondents of the survey were from the Primary or lower level of education, this was the primary focus of the study. However, the study also had respondents from a wide range of educational backgrounds to ensure representativeness of the survey responses.

Use of technology to access legal information.

Malawi showed significantly higher usage of social media applications like SMS, Facebook, and WhatsApp to access legal information, at 64%, 46% and 44% respectively. In contrast, Uganda at 27%, 17%, and 22% respectively shows lower levels of usage on average, of the same platforms among survey respondents.

Provision of legal help resources at various public places

Public Place



Shopping Mall












Table showing the suggestions and Preferences by respondents in Both Uganda and Malawi

In both Malawi and Uganda, survey respondents recommended having legal information at churches, markets, and schools, with shopping malls as the least preferred location for accessing legal information.

Attitudes and Perspectives of survey respondents

Is it easy to access legal information?

Respondents to the survey in Uganda had mixed attitudes towards the state of access to justice in their community with only 29% agreeing with the statement that it is easy to access legal services.

More Ugandans disagree (59%) with the statement that its easy to access justice in sharp contrast with Malawi where 1 in 2 (53%) people agreed that it is easy to assess justice.

Do you know the procedure to follow when you want access to justice?

Respondents in Malawi perceive that they know the process to access to justice (3 in 4 people) compared to 1 in 2 people in Uganda perceive that they know the process of accessing justice.

Do you know the procedure to follow when you want access to justice?













Attitude and perceptions regarding knowledge about the legal process to access Justice.

About 50% of the people in both Uganda and Malawi agree that there are ways govt/NGOs are improving access to justice. One in three People in both countries agree that there are ways government and the Non-Government Organizations have tried to reduce costs of accessing justice. Additionally, on average about 40% of people in both countries agree that there are ways in which both the government and Non-Government Organizations can see and are using technology to improve access to justice.

Innovations noted from key informant interviews.

In Uganda, the legal landscape has witnessed significant innovation aimed at enhancing access to justice and legal services. Key initiatives include the implementation of road cameras and security gadgets on vehicle number plates and Bodas, bolstering surveillance and law enforcement efforts. Moreover, the introduction of dedicated court days for cases, family justice desks, and labor desks at institutions like the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has streamlined legal processes and facilitated community engagement. Community legal volunteers, such as those from FIDA, play a vital role in providing legal assistance, although they may refer to some cases they cannot resolve. Amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 lockdown, legal services adapted swiftly, with online consultations, webinars, and teleconference litigations ensuring continuity in legal proceedings and access to legal advice and mediation.

In Malawi, efforts to improve access to justice and address legal challenges have been evident through various community-focused initiatives. Mobile courts and community courts bring justice closer to the people, particularly in remote areas where access to formal legal institutions may be limited. The provision of channels to report specific cases like corruption, toll-free complaint lines, and community policing initiatives enhance transparency and accountability within the justice system. Additionally, the involvement of community chiefs and victim support services strengthens community cohesion and ensures that vulnerable individuals receive the necessary assistance. Online platforms for reporting at the Ministry of Gender and small claims mechanisms further empower citizens to seek redress for grievances and access legal remedies efficiently.

Ways Govt/NGO’s have improved access to justice.

In addressing the challenges of accessing justice, governments and Non-Government Organizations in both Uganda and Malawi have implemented various strategies to improve the situation. Awareness and sensitization campaigns conducted within communities play a crucial role in informing individuals about their legal rights and available avenues for seeking justice. These campaigns aim to empower citizens with the knowledge and resources necessary to navigate the legal system effectively. Additionally, mediation processes have been promoted as an alternative means of resolving disputes, offering parties an opportunity to reach mutually agreeable solutions outside of formal court proceedings. The involvement of local leaders, such as Local Council I’s and traditional leaders, further enhances access to justice by providing a familiar and accessible point of contact for community members seeking assistance. Non-Government organizations also play a significant role in expanding access to justice, often operating within communities to provide legal aid services, education, and advocacy. Furthermore, the establishment of functional police stations and the implementation of community policing initiatives contribute to enhancing law enforcement and ensuring that justice is accessible to all members of society. Together, these efforts represent a multifaceted approach to improving access to justice and promoting the rule of law within communities.

Ways Govt/NGO’s have used technology to improve access to justice.

Government and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have harnessed technology to enhance access to justice through various innovative means. One significant avenue is the utilization of mass media platforms such as radio and television to disseminate legal information and educate the public on their rights and legal procedures.

Additionally, the use of mobile phones has revolutionized access to justice by enabling individuals to report cases, seek legal advice, and receive updates on court proceedings via text messages.

CCTV cameras are increasingly being employed to capture evidence, contributing to more robust legal proceedings. Virtual meeting applications like Zoom have facilitated remote interactions between legal professionals and clients, particularly in areas where physical access is limited.

Toll-free phone numbers provide direct access to law enforcement agencies and anti-corruption offices, streamlining the process of reporting and addressing legal issues.

Furthermore, technology enables efficient case management and follow-up through electronic systems Like the Ugandan Electronic Court Case Management Information system, ensuring transparency and accountability in legal proceedings. Online platforms for rulings offer convenient access to court decisions, enhancing transparency and public trust in the justice system.

Lastly, the use of mobile phones for evidence collection and the implementation of Electronic Court Case Management Information Systems optimizes the efficiency and effectiveness of legal processes, ultimately improving access to justice for all.

Recommendations to improve access to justice from users.

Based on user feedback from Uganda and Malawi, several recommendations can be made to improve access to justice in both countries.

1. Scale Up Innovative Approaches: Both Uganda and Malawi should prioritize scaling up the innovative approaches and solutions identified in their respective contexts. This involves expanding the reach and impact of successful initiatives that have proven effective in enhancing access to justice.

2. Legal Jurisdiction Reform: In Uganda, there is a suggestion to widen the jurisdiction of chief magistrates to handle certain cases, such as defilement cases, instead of routing them to the high court. This can help expedite legal proceedings and make justice more accessible to individuals in need.

3. Community Sensitization: Both countries should continue and expand community sensitization efforts aimed at raising awareness about legal procedures, rights, and available dispute resolution avenues. These initiatives help empower individuals with knowledge and resources to navigate the justice system effectively.

4. Utilization of AI and legal Technology: Embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology can significantly enhance access to justice in both Uganda and Malawi. Implementing AI-driven solutions can streamline legal processes, improve efficiency, and provide greater access to legal information and services, particularly in remote areas.

5. Strengthen Local Courts: In Malawi, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of local courts, especially cultural courts, to ensure they are equipped with the Knowledge and authority to handle a diverse range of legal matters effectively. This includes providing training, resources, and support to local court personnel.

6. Language Accessibility: Translating the law into local languages and providing audio versions can bridge the language barrier and ensure that legal information is accessible to all segments of society, including those with limited literacy or proficiency in official languages.

7. NGO Support: Maintaining an open and supportive environment for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is crucial in both countries. NGOs play a vital role in advocating for legal rights, aiding marginalized communities, and complementing government efforts to improve access to justice.

By implementing these recommendations, Uganda and Malawi can make significant strides in enhancing access to justice, empowering individuals, and fostering a more equitable and inclusive legal system.


The concept paper presents compelling evidence of the transformative potential of grassroots innovations in improving access to justice within Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi. Through crowdsourcing and survey data analysis, the research illuminates a vibrant landscape of local initiatives, ranging from technology-driven platforms to community-based legal aid services. These findings underscore the crucial role of grassroots actors in addressing legal challenges and bridging gaps in access to justice, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations. By amplifying the voices of innovators and spotlighting their contributions, this paper highlights the importance of recognizing and nurturing bottom-up approaches to legal empowerment.

However, alongside the celebration of innovation, the paper also identifies persistent gaps and challenges in access to justice across the region. Despite the proliferation of grassroots initiatives, disparities in access persist, reflecting broader structural inequalities and systemic barriers. Moreover, the survey data reveals nuanced differences in community perceptions and preferences, underscoring the need for context-specific strategies and tailored interventions. As such, the concept paper calls for a holistic and inclusive approach to advancing access to justice, one that encompasses both grassroots innovations and broader systemic reforms.

Building on these insights, the paper proposes a multi-dimensional strategy for enhancing access to justice in Sub Saharan Africa. This strategy includes scaling up successful grassroots initiatives, fostering collaboration between local actors and formal justice institutions, and leveraging technology to expand the reach and impact of legal services. Additionally, the paper emphasizes the importance of community engagement, capacity building, and policy advocacy in driving sustainable change. By embracing a comprehensive and collaborative approach, policymakers, practitioners, and civil society actors can work together to build a more equitable and inclusive justice system that upholds the rights and dignity of all individuals.


In conclusion, the findings from Uganda Kenya and Malawi underscore the importance of innovative approaches and technology in enhancing access to justice. By scaling up successful innovations, widening legal jurisdiction where appropriate, and strengthening community sensitization efforts, both countries can make significant progress in improving access to justice for all. Embracing AI and digital technology can further streamline legal processes and bridge gaps in information and service delivery, particularly in remote areas. Additionally, efforts to strengthen local courts, translate legal materials into local languages, and maintain an enabling environment for NGOs are essential for ensuring a more equitable and inclusive legal system. By implementing these recommendations, Uganda and Malawi can move closer to achieving their goals of ensuring justice is accessible and available to all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances.