Why is mob justice an illegal and wrong way of handling child/juvenile offenders? - Justice Centres Uganda
mob justice

Why is mob justice an illegal and wrong way of handling child/juvenile offenders?


Children in conflict with the law’ are defined as anyone under the age of 18 who comes into contact with the justice system as a result of being suspected or accused of committing an offense. A child is every person below 18 years. In Uganda, every child from 12 years and above can be held liable for any criminal act.

What is mob justice?

  • It is an offence in itself since the law does not authorize it.
  • It takes away the rights of an accused, mainly the presumption of innocence and right to be heard (all provided for in the constitution).
  • There is no fair trial since the complainant(s) and the mob in most cases are the witness, prosecutor, judge and executioner of the punishment.
  • In most cases there are no prior independent and impartial investigations conducted and conclusions are always based on hearsay, motivated by jealousy, hatred and misconceived facts.
  • Punishments are severe involving beatings, miming, destruction of property, sometimes undressing and killing of the accused and there is no limit since the punishment is determined by the mood of the mob.
  • It does not promote reconciliation of parties involved or rehabilitation of the accused.
  • The process does not observe human and children rights.

What should be done if a child is involved in a criminal activity?

A person who thinks he or she is aggrieved by actions of a child, which may be civil or criminal, may report the matter to any of the following institutions:

  4. THE COURTS OF JUDICATURE (Family and Children Court (FCC), High Court

The following paragraphs will give you some detailed information about how the institutions shall handle the cases involving children:


The aggrieved party may report to the responsible guardian or parent of the child for an amicable settlement. This is practical especially in minor offences.

JCU supports you with organising and undertaking the mediation


A village LCC has criminal jurisdiction to try a child and it is the court of first instance for any of the following offences involving children.

  • Common assault,
  • Affray, (Fighting)
  • Causing bodily harm under section
  • Theft,
  • Criminal trespass, and
  • Malicious damage to property.


What steps does a person take to lodge a complaint with the Local Council Court (LCC)?

  1. A complaint is lodged to the area Local Council1 where the matter happened or where the complainant or accused stays. Every village LCC can only handle cases within its territorial jurisdiction.
  2. The complaint may be in writing or oral but if made orally it shall be reduced into writing and signed by LC chairperson or the secretary and counter signed by the complainant.
  3. The Chairperson or Secretary will prepare and sign summons which will be delivered to the accused’s home indicating the complainant, place and time for hearing the matter.

JCU supports you with lodging the complaint with the LCC and provides free legal representation in courts of law

How should the local council courts (LCCs) handle cases involving children?

  • LCs courts are not allowed to put a child under custody or detention.
  • Proceeding must be held in camera (carried out in private, in the absence of the public and the press) It shouldn’t be a public hearing, only concerned parties and witnesses should be allowed in the meeting.
  • The case must be handled within 3 months.
  • The case should be heard in an informal and child friendly environment.
  • The victim in the case should be encouraged to attend the proceedings.
  • Parents/guardians/fit person/Probation & Social Welfare Officer of the child must attend the proceedings.
  • The child should be heard and his or her opinion must be taken into account.
  • The Court should decide quickly and not be bogged down by technicalities and rules of evidence.
  • Each side should be allowed to bring witnesses to give evidence.
  • The right to appeal in 14 days must be explained to the child.
  • Where a child repeatedly commits offences, the LC Court should contact the Probation and social welfare officer who will arrange to take the child to the Family and Children Court for an appropriate court order.
  • The LC Court may ask some community volunteers to act as fit persons, to assist in handling supervising and guiding children.

What remedies/orders may be passed by the LCC while handling children matters?

  • Reconciliation This  is the process of two people or groups in a conflict agreeing to make amends or come to a truce.
  • Compensation is awarded by a court when a defendant is determined to have acted negligently caused harm to someone
  • Restitution, Restitution involves the court, as part of a sentence in a criminal case, ordering a defendant to compensate the victim for losses suffered as a result of the crime
  • Community service is a form of punishment intended to benefit the community that’s been harmed by an offender’s crime. Judges often order offenders to perform community service in addition to or instead of other forms of punishment, such as incarceration, fines, or probation.
  • Apology; Court can order a child to say sorry and let them off the hook or caution (give a formal warning )them
  • The court may make a guidance order under which the child shall be required to submit himself or herself to the guidance, supervision, advice and assistance of a person designated by the court.


The Police has special unit dedicated to handling children’s matters, known as the Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU).

What steps does a person take to lodge a complaint with the police?

  1. A complaint can be made to any nearest police station by walking to the counter desk and informing the officer in charge of the purpose of the visit.
  2. First information and statement of the complainant will be recorded down in the criminal record book (CRB) and a reference number will be generated and given to the complainant for record purposes.
  3. A police file will be opened up and the OC/CID will allocate the same to an investigating officer (IO) for further investigations.
  4. The investigating officer may summon the accused or visit his/her home to record statements, take exhibits among others.
  5. After investigations the OC/CID may recommend mediation, send the file to CFPU for handling or forward the file to the state attorney (court) depending on the nature of the offence, age of the accused and evidence available.


When dealing with children, the Police should be mindful of the following principles

  • Police should respect the personal rights and dignity of all children and have regard to their vulnerability, that is, take account of their age and maturity and any special needs of those who may be under a physical or mental disability or have communication difficulties.
  • The child should be informed in a manner and in language that is appropriate to his or her age and level of understanding of the reason for which he or she has been taken into custody.
  • The child should be provided with access to a lawyer and be given the opportunity to contact their parents, guardians or a person whom they trust.
  • Parent(s) should be informed of the child’s presence at the police station, given details of the reason why the child has been taken into custody and be asked to come to the station.
  • Should not be questioned in respect of criminal behavior, or asked to make or sign a statement concerning such involvement, except in the presence of a lawyer or one of the child’s parents or guardian.
  • Ensure that no child in their custody is detained together with adults.
  • Ensure that children in police custody are kept in conditions that are safe and appropriate to their needs.
  • Child-friendly approaches should be adhered to throughout the investigation process.


How should the police handle cases and charge children with criminal offenses?

  • The Police are ordinarily the first point of contact for a child within the formal justice system.
  • As far as possible all cases involving children in conflict with the law should be handled by the CFPU.
  • Officers in CFPU are required to dress in plain clothes, use child friendly language and liaise with either the parents/guardians of the child, the probation and social welfare officer and LCs.
  • After a complainant has filed a case, an arrest is not to be made until enough information is obtained to support the case. A record of the arrest should be made by the police.
  • Where a child is arrested, the police shall under justifiable circumstances caution and release the child. The police are empowered to dispose of cases at their discretion without recourse to formal court hearings in accordance with criteria to be laid down by the Inspector General of Police.
  • As soon as possible after arrest, the child’s parents or guardians and the secretary for children’s affairs of the local government council for the area in which the child resides shall be informed of the arrest by the police.
  • The number of interviews should be as limited as possible and their length should be adapted to the child’s age and attention span.
  • Release the child on police bond unless such release will expose the child to danger of mob justice or defeat the end of justice.
  • If police bond is not granted, a child shall be detained in police custody for a maximum of twenty-four hours or until the child is taken before a court, whichever is sooner.
  • Children should be detained separately from adults while in police custody.
  • Serious cases should be referred to the prosecution department and lesser offences can be handled through other means like mediation.


High Court of Uganda

  • The High Court has jurisdiction to try offences where a child is accused of a crime punishable by death (for which only the High Court has jurisdiction) or where a child is jointly accused with an adult.
  • After hearing the case, the High Court must remit/forward the file to the Family and Children Court for an order to be made.


Family and Children Court (FCC)

  • The Family and Children Court (FCC) is established in every district and any other lower government unit designated by the Chief Justice by notice in the Gazette.
  • A magistrate not below the grade of magistrate grade II presides over the family and children court.
  • The jurisdiction of the Court is to hear and determine criminal charges against a child and other children related matters.
  • Criminal cases involving juvenile offenders are normally instituted and prosecuted by the directorate of public prosecutions through the state attorneys.

JCU supports you with lodging the complaint with the FCC or the High Court and provides free legal representation in courts of law

What remedies/orders may be passed by the FCC while handling children matters?

What role does Justice Centres Uganda play in ensuring a child-friendly justice system for juvenile offenders?

  • Mediation of matters that can be settled outside court, at LCC or at family level
  • Provision of free legal representation in courts of law
  • Ensuring other institutions observe children rights especially those in detention like at police through outreaches and follow-ups.
  • Refer cases to other legal aid service providers and specialized support institutions


International treaties and standards

  1. The United Nations Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System 1997
  2. The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyadh Guidelines) 1990
  3. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (Tokyo Rules) 1990
  4. United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) 1985

National laws

  1. The 1995 Constitution of Uganda
  2. The Children (Amendment) Act 2016
  3. The Penal Code Act Cap 120
  4. The Local Council Courts Act 2006

Statutory instruments

  1. The Children (Family and Children Court) Rules SI 59-1
  2. The Judicature (Criminal Procedure) (Applications) Rules SI 13-8
  3. The Probation (Probation Committees) (Constitution and Duties) Rules SI 122
  4. The Sentencing Guidelines Practice Directions 2013
  5. The Local Council Courts Rules 2007

Case law