The introduction of village courts in Papua New Guinea in 1975 was an ambitious experiment in providing semi-formal legal access to the country’s overwhelmingly rural population. Nearly 50 years later, the enthusiastic adoption of these courts has had a number of ramifications, some of them unanticipated. Arguably, the village courts have developed and are working exactly as they were supposed to do, adapted by local communities to modes and styles consistent with their own dispute management sensibilities. But with little in the way of state oversight or support, most village courts have become, of necessity, nearly autonomous. Village courts have also become the blueprint for other modes of dispute management. They overlap with other sources of authority, so the line between what does and does not constitute a ‘court’ is now indistinct in many parts of the country. Rather than casting this issue as a problem for legal development, the contributors to Grassroots Law in Papua New Guinea ask how, under conditions of state withdrawal, people seek to retain an understanding of law that holds out some promise of either keeping the attention of the state or reproducing the state’s authority.