Enhancing the Role of Courts in Promoting Forest Justice: Lessons from the Matiri Court Cases

Despite concerted efforts by government and non-government actors, Uganda continues to suffer from unprecedented rates of deforestation and forest degradation. Current statistics indicate that in the last 25 years, Uganda lost more than half of its forest estate. According to the State of Uganda’s Forestry Report 2016, Uganda’s forest cover reduced from 4.9 million hectares in 1990 to 1.8 million hectares in 2015 translating into a loss of 3.1 million hectares. This rate of loss of forest cover has serious consequences for the lives and livelihood security of many Ugandans. For the most part, this unprecedented loss of Uganda’s forest cover is attributed to the increasing number of forest disputes, crimes and illegalities in the forest sector. This raises the question of settlement of forest-related disputes. Courts of law are one of the major mechanisms for settling forest-related disputes in Uganda. However, increasingly, many stakeholders are concerned about the way courts handle and dispose of forest-related disputes. The concerns range from time taken to dispose of cases, to handling of evidence, interpretation of the law and facts and award of damages and penalties. The major objective of this paper is to provide recommendations in form of lessons that can enhance the role of courts of law in ensuring forest justice/ justice for forests.