Short history: The Legal System of Tanzania


JF-Expert Member
Oct 17, 2014
The country United Republic of Tanzania is made up of Tanganyika mainland and Zanzibar islands across Indian Ocean. The estimated population size of Tanzania in 2019 is 60.4 million, with an average 3.08% annual population growth. The official language in Tanzania is Swahili (Kiswahili). English is also used as a primary language of commerce, scientific research, administration and higher education. The Tanzanian public authority is divided into central and local government authorities (decentralized governance). Local governments are allowed to create binding by-laws to govern various issues in the districts.

The political governance structure of Tanzania is divided into three parts. According to Article 4 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977, these parts are the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.

Tanzania's legal system is based on English common law. According to Section 2 of the Judicature and Application of Laws Act, Cap. 358, common law, doctrines of equity and statutes of general application are enforceable in Tanzania [but only so far as the circumstances of Tanzania and its inhabitants permit, and subject to such qualifications as local circumstances may render necessary].

The supreme law of the country is the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977 as amended from time to time. The Constitution vests in the state authorities (under Article 9) the responsibility to ensure that, in discharging their duties, human dignity and other human rights are respected and cherished and that human dignity is preserved and upheld in accordance with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Article 9(f)).

Part three of the Constitution (Articles 12 to 29) provides for the Bill of Rights and Duties. The rights enshrined include; the right to equality (Arts. 12 and 13); right to life (Art. 14); right to personal freedom (Art. 15); right to privacy and personal security (Art. 16); right to freedom of movement (Art. 17); freedom of expression and right to information (Art. 18); freedom of religion (Art. 19); freedom of association (Art. 20) and the right to take part in public affairs (Art. 21). The redress for violation of human rights in Tanzania is sought in court through the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, Cap. 3 of 1994. Moreover, other non-human rights procedures such as under the Criminal Procedure Act, Cap. 20 of 1985 and Civil Procedure Act, Cap. 33 can as well be invoked to acquire appropriate legal remedy.

International treaties or code of conducts in any fields are not applicable in Tanzania unless they are ratified pursuant to Article 63 of the Constitution by the legislature. However, English common laws (of any kind) are applicable in Tanzania pursuant to the provisions of the Judicature and Application of Laws Act, Cap. 358 of 1920. Other foreign laws and court decisions have persuasive value in Tanzania. That is, they are used by the courts to interpret or widen the legal principles.

Apart from rules legislated by the parliament, the local governments and some of the statutory bodies such as the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) are also allowed to make bylaws, rules, regulations, procedures and orders (called in general subsidiary legislation), which are binding pursuant to the parent legislation.

In order to avoid any contradiction between national laws and international legal instruments, Tanzania uses a coherent approach, whereby existing laws which are inadequate or which contradict the provisions of the international instruments are amended in order to make sure that the norms set forth in those instruments are domesticated in the Tanzanian laws.

The Tanzanian legal system is therefore a wide one. Its framework consists of rules and regulations from those enacted by the parliament to those formulated by other statutory and professional bodies. The enforcement of those rules and regulations once breached is also multidimensional. It can be done through a court of law or through the law enforcing institutions and monitoring bodies such as SUMATRA

It should be noted that the laws of Tanzania are referred to as “Acts” or “legislation”. They are arranged in a series of chapter numbers called “Cap.” However, other laws are still arranged in years. A process is underway to put all laws in “Cap.” The subsidiary legislation is printed through government notices (G.Ns). Professional ethical guidelines are found in G.Ns like other normal publications such as booklets.

*Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania of 1977, article 4; 9; 12-29
*Judicature and Application of Laws Act, Cap. 358 of 1920, section 2
*Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, Cap. 3 of 1994
*Criminal Procedure Act, Cap. 20 of 1985
*Civil Procedure Act, Cap. 33
*Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, article 9(f)
*Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority
*Surface and Marine Transport and Regulatory Authority

Benigno Benson
Legal Scholar
Open University of Tanzania (OUT)

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