The local courts of Zambia are the successors to the native courts which the British set up in Northern Rhodesia, as elsewhere in colonial Africa, to administer justice to Africans. However, while the system of native courts originally existed in parallel with the system of English-style magistrates' courts, after independence the native courts (re-named local courts) were integrated into the judicial system, with appeals lying to subordinate courts (i.e. magistrates' courts) of the first or second class. Although it was the ultimate goal of the government to have a fully professionalised judiciary (a policy adopted by Kenya in 1967), it recognised that the local courts still had an important role to play in the administration of justice, particularly in the rural areas. Twenty years later it looks as if their future is secure. If the amount of business transacted by the local courts and the paucity of appeals from their decisions provide an indication of their popularity and effectiveness, they would seem to have proved their worth.
Like their predecessors, the local courts have a limited criminal jurisdiction, but the bulk of their business is civil. They have jurisdiction in most civil matters where the claim does not exceed 200 kwacha. Some of these cases are actions for the recovery of a debt, actions for assault or actions for defamation of character (most frequently, accusations of witchcraft), but the majority of the cases could be broadly categorised as “family” cases, including divorce, adultery, seduction and inheritance claims.