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Court monitoring

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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Court monitoring is a specific tool that can form part of an appraisal, ongoing programme monitoring and evaluation, or research. The goals of court monitoring are:

  • To hold the justice system accountable for its actions by maintaining a public presence in the courts.
  • To identify problematic patterns and concerns with the court system as well as to propose practical solutions.
  • To improve the administration of justice.
  • To increase public awareness of and public trust in the justice system.

South Africa – Shukumisa Monitoring Campaign

A network of civil society groups in South Africa, called Shukumisa, combines human rights monitoring with awareness-raising during the 16 Days of Gender Activism. In 2008 the group sent out 16 monitors to gather information about how official entities such as the police and courts were meeting their obligations to provide justice for victims of sexual violence. Monitors were trained on how to use assessment tools that examined how the government was complying with its own policies, including: The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Amendment Act 32 of 2007 (SOA), Regulations and forms related to the SOA (including forms for HIV testing of rape accused and information sheets for rape survivors about PEP and HIV testing), SAPS National Instructions 3/2008 Sexual Offences, The Victim’s Charter, Minimum Standards on Services for Victims of Crime, Gauteng Provincial Guidelines and Standards on the Implementation of Police, Station-Based Victim Empowerment Services (Gauteng Department of Community Safety), The Customer Service Charter for Court Users,  and The National Sexual Assault Policy and National Management Guidelines for Sexual Assault Care (Department of Health). Thirty four police stations, 16 courts, and two hospitals were visited during the 16 Days Campaign. To gain access to information, monitors relied on the service standard around information and awareness contained in the Minimum Standards for Service Delivery in Victim Empowerment (Victims of Crime and Violence) issued by the Department of Social Development. According to the terms of this standard, “service providers will inform communities on availability of and access to resources” and “provide information on referral procedures.” Because monitors were both members of the community, as well as of organizations advocating for rape victims’ rights, in theory the courts and police stations should not have been able to turn them away or refuse to answer any of their questions. The monitoring report revealed important findings, specifically that implementation of the policies on sexual offences was inconsistent, a lack of knowledge around procedures relating to sexual offences was evident, and understanding of the needs of marginalized victims was limited, suggesting that these particular victims may be poorly served.

Shukumisa Monitoring Training Guide and Protocol (Tshwaranang and RAPCAN 2008). Available in English.

Source: Tshwaranang and RAPCAN. 2008. A report on the monitoring activities conducted by the Shukumisa Campaign during the16 Days of No Violence Against Women.


Uganda – Assessment of Local Council Courts

In 1998, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) conducted an assessment of the Local Council Courts of Uganda. The goal of the assessment was to determine whether the courts were effectively delivering basic legal services and how they could be improved in terms of efficiency and operational effectiveness. Accordingly, the assessment focused on some key tasks:

  • To review the literature and basic data on the Local Council court system;
  • To assess the strengths and weaknesses in the process and functioning of the Local Council court system in particular in relation to its composition (election and gender), procedures, jurisdiction (laws applicable, remedies granted) and accessibility (geographically, economically and administratively);
  • To examine the relationship between the Local Council court system and the formal as well as informal settlement practices in communities;
  • To assess user perception of the decisions made by Local Council courts and to what extent the decisions may be influenced by economic, cultural-environmental or religious factors and gender biased attitudes;
  • To identify caseload and case flow within the different levels of the Local Council court system and to ascertain the incidence and result of cases appealed to higher Local Council court levels and Magistrates’ Court level;
  • To consider the possibility of introducing, as an alternative to appeals within the Local Council court system, the option for parties who are not satisfied with the decision of Local Council courts to file a complaint as a case of first instance in a formal court;

The consultant carrying out the assessment collected data through document review, 100 questionnaires, five key informant interviews, 30 in-depth interviews, and three focus group discussions. These were carried out in a number of villages in five selected districts – one district in each of Uganda’s four regions plus Kampala. Although this assessment was not specifically tailored to evaluate the court’s handling of violence against women, these types of questions can provide important background on how courts function generally, who is using the courts, and where there may be entry points for reform.

Assessment Interview Guide for the Hybrid Justice System in Uganda

A) Interview guide for Local Council Court Officials 

1. Composition of courts

− Qualifications and background of some of the officials. (These may relate to academic and/or experiential qualifications)

− Record the gender representation by post held.

− What do they perceive as their major roles and functions in their judicial capacity?

− Any problems in combining administrative and judicial functions? (Ensure this is clearly explained in vernacular)

2. Court records

− How many cases on average are reported per day/week/month?

− Whether or not court records are kept and if not, why?

− Types of cases commonly reported?

− How the records are kept and problems associated there (Request of a sample of court records if available) ?

− Where records are not kept, what happens in the event of an appeal?

3. Mode of operation/court proceedings

− How many cases are on average handled per day/week/month?

− What factors affect case flow?

− Whether they have knowledge of the limits of their jurisdiction (what are they?)

− What factors are taken into consideration before making a decision?

− Are they capable of mediating cases within and outside their jurisdiction (how)?

− Can they cite instances where they have given legal advice to parties?

− Whether they seek technical advice from other institutions or bodies and if so, which ones and for what type of cases/situations?

− What procedures do they use in summoning parties and witnesses?

− How do they go through court proceedings?

− Are their cases referred to other authorities (which are those cases and to which authorities are they referred?)

− How are the fees and fines determined and collected? Any additional/informal fees?

4. Efficiency of Local Council court officials/good governance

Whether they have benefited from any form of support in terms of training or other forms of strengthening their efficiency (some examples)/How effective/beneficial?

Do they have any reference materials or similar resources used in their judicial functions? (some examples)

Have they received any practice guidelines/directions regarding costs, fees, and procedures?

How do they enforce judgments and what are the consequences of non-observance?

Can they identify aspects or areas where support is needed to make them more efficient?

5. Other Issues

Who are the dominant users of the courts?

What problems do they as court officials face?

Do they have infrastructure, e.g. court room, office premises (rented, free, donated, borrowed, makeshift), stationary and other facilities?

What is their opinion on the introduction as an alternative to appeals within the Local Council Court system the option for a party unsatisfied with the decision in the Local Council Court to file their complaint as a case of first instance in the formal court?

Comments on alternative resolution mechanisms within the community?

* Any other comments? Or reactions from the Local Council officials?

B) Interview guide for Local Council court users

Personal/ household data

1. Respondent’s Identification Record the sex/Name/Age/Village/Sub-county /District?

2. Marital Status

3. Do you have children? Number of girls? and boys?

4. What contribution do you give to the running of your home?

5. How do you do this?

6. What educational level did you attain?

Composition of courts/mode of operation/user’s perception

7. Are you comfortable with the combination of executive and judicial functions of the Local Council?

8. If so, why?

9. If not, why not?

10. How easy is it for you to access Local Council courts?

11. Do you have confidence in Local Council courts?

12. Why?

13. Do you perceive Local Council courts as impartial?

14. If not, explain why?

15. What are your comments on the following aspects of Local Council courts:

16. Fees and any other costs involved?

17. Expediency of their operations?

18. Appreciation of the technicalities and procedures involved?

19. What do you perceive/consider as factors influencing the decisions of Local Council?

20. What other case settlement forums exist in the community?

21. In the event of a case indicate to which case settlement forums you would appeal in order of priority (find out whether priority is determined by nature of the case)?

22. Are decisions from Local Council courts enforceable/enforced?

23. What are the consequences of non-observance?

24. Give your comparison between Local Council courts and the formal court system.

25. Give your opinion on the possibility of introducing as an alternative to appeals within the Local Council court system, the option for a party unsatisfied with the decision in the Local Council court to file their complaint as a case of first instance in the formal court.

Efficiency of Local Council court officials/good governance

26. What would you consider to be indicators that Local Council courts are efficient and effective?

27. Can you identify areas where the Local Council courts need support?

28. Any suggestions for change in the Local Council courts?

In-depth issues

29. Do you have any experience in using Local Council courts?

30. If so, can you relate what the experience(s) was/were like, whether good or bad?

31. If not, can you relate an experience of somebody close to you that you recall?

* Any other comments?

C) Interview Guide for Key Informants

1. Name/Age/Sex (record)/Duration in office/District/Post-held?

2. Is there collaboration between your office and Local Council courts?

3. If so, what form does the collaboration take?

4. If not, why?

5. Do you perceive Local Council court as impartial?

6. If not why?

7. What do you perceive as factors influencing the decisions of Local Council courts?

8. Have you any knowledge/received reports of problems faced by various people in accessing or using Local Council courts?

9. If so what are the common problems and complaints?

10. Have you been approached to assist in the enforcement of decisions of Local Council courts? Cite examples.

11.What do you consider as:

12. the strengths of Local Council courts?

13. weaknesses of Local Council courts?

14. Give your comparison between Local Council courts and the formal court system.

15. What other alternative case resolution mechanisms exist the community?

16. Identify them in order of priority given to them.

17. Indicators of efficiency and effectiveness of Local Council courts?

18. Any suggestions for change in Local Council courts system?

19. Identify areas where you think Local Councils need support

Source: Penal Reform International. 2000. Access to Justice in sub-Saharan Africa: The role of traditional and informal justice systems.


Further questions to determine if gender bias exists could include:

  • Do the Local Council courts make provision for the safety of domestic violence victims or sexual assault victims?
  • Do the findings of the Local Council courts support the human rights of women and girls?
  • Do the Local Council courts offer reparations or settlements directly to women and girl victims or are the reparations or settlements offered to their families?
  • Are women and girls given an opportunity to speak in Local Council courts, as victims and witnesses?
  • Do women and girl victims of violence have the opportunity to have an advocate who understands gender-based violence accompany them to Local Council court hearings?
  • Have there been any unintended consequences when Local Council courts hear cases of violence against women and girls?]

See additional information on how to engage in court monitoring.