Lessons from Estonia’s Best E-justice Practices
16 Dec 2015
‘A strong e-justice system is just one key component of a broader e-governance system, and is an initiative that needs to be constantly developing and growing’ – this was one key lesson attained through a recent study tour conducted for a delegation of key Uzbekistan legal professionals. Along with presenting examples of the interconnectedness and fluidity of a strong e-governance system, the tour also put emphasis on methods of streamlining court operations.
The six-day tour saw the participation of eleven delegates, including judges from Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court, the High Economic Court, representatives from regional/inter-district courts, and those from a range of relevant ministries and departments. The tour focused on the mechanisms of Estonia’s ‘E-Toimik’ e-justice system, and directions for its continued development, and presented through meetings with key justice figures, and through visits to courts, institutions and educational facilities.
After the event it was intended that its outcomes should help shape a direction for the growth of Uzbekistan’s E-Sud system, making sure justice can be quickly and more effectively provided to individuals requiring assistance from courts.
Estonia has been recognized globally for the advancements it has made in terms of its e-justice programme, and this was evident to participants in the recent study tour.
From 2006 Estonia operated its own constantly evolving equivalent e-justice system, referred to as 'E-Toimik’. The system, currently in its second incarnation with a third expected in 2016, has brought courts together to improve their efficiency, enhance the exchange of ideas and information between parties, and make justice processes faster and more effective. It is an integral part of a broader e-governance system offering 3,000 online services, and offering citizens the ability to sign electronic documents.
The effectiveness of Estonia’s justice system has not only been supported through e-justice systems, but also by a court system that makes sure specialized staff are not unnecessarily bound by administrative tasks, helping make sure the system is as fast and efficient as possible.
“E-Sud is playing an important role in the development of Uzbekistan’s justice system, but it cannot function in isolation, and requires the development of other systems and protocols to ensure its effectiveness,” said tour participant and Task Manager on Court Administration Mr. Azamat Salaev.
“The visit to Estonia showed to participants that creating an effective e-governance system is a multifaceted initiative, one that is by its nature an on-going process. While significant advancements have been made in Uzbekistan, there is still additional work to be done.”
Possible new directions of growth
Within the e-justice field, a key outcome of the tour has been the understanding that the development of E-Sud is a continuous process, and one that requires the coordinated development of a strong e-governance system. While significant steps have been taken in Uzbekistan towards establishing a stronger e-governance system, the tour will assist in strengthening between this broader system and the more specific E-Sud network.
Recommendations resulting from the study tour to Estonia have also focused on methods of streamlining legal processes, both electronically and through other means. One suggested approach has been the introduction of two new staff types into courtrooms, namely assistant judges and coordination administrators. Within the Estonian system these two staff members help limited the workload of judges in regards to managing casework and undertaking court administration matters, both roles that could be potentially applied in Uzbekistan should court structures be reviewed.
Another particular use of the Estonian e-justice system has been the automatic distribution of cases to judges. Through this method a set number of criteria have been considered for each case, thereby determining how they should be distributed to relevant judges. This approach has been effectively combined with an initiative to simplify a number of popular proceedings, helping judges to better manage their workloads. Through researching case complexities and determining the specialties and abilities of individual judges, these approaches could be effectively applied in Uzbekistan.
What comes next
After the return of study tour participants to Uzbekistan, it is expected that they will share their knowledge with fellow legal professionals through workshops and training events. These on-going initiatives will be conducted in partnership with UNDP, to make sure the study tour’s outcomes can be utilized by Uzbekistan’s broader legal profession.
It is also hoped that longer-term legislative changes will result from the lessons learned during the study tour, particular those emphasizing a need for continuous review e-justice systems and their connectedness with other e-governance systems.
The UNDP and USAID joint ‘Rule of Law’ project, undertaken in partnership with Uzbekistan’s Supreme Court, the High Economic Court and other major legal partners, seeks to continue expanding access to justice in Uzbekistan. It has elaborated on the successes of the previous ‘Civil Justice Reform: Effective Court Management’ project, whose results were recognized at the UN General Assembly in New York. Read more about the Rule of Law project here.
By James Brindley