How Technological Solutions Making the Uzbekistan Courts More User-Friendly

03 Aug 2017

 A local resident from Tashkent files an electronic claim

After her divorce in 2015, Tashkent city resident Gulbahor Rahimova had a difficult time claiming the alimony payments her ex-husband owed her for the support of their two children.

In matters of sensitive family law (body of law regulating family relationships, including marriage and divorce, the treatment of children, and related economic matters), justice must be speedy and efficient – but in Gulbahor’s case, the costs of seeking help began to outweigh the benefits.

“To contest the alimony payments, I had to physically go to the courthouse several times – to submit my documents and speak with lawyers. The time spent going to the courts and the embarrassment made me question whether the process was worth losing time from work.”

Putting People First

But things are changing for people like Gulbahor Rahimova. In 2016 and 2017, legislative efforts have focused on giving people better access to Uzbekistan’s legal system. This work, which is prioritizing long-term reform, has been bolstered by the government’s declaration that 2017 is the ‘Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interests’ and the adoption of a 2017-2021 Action Strategy on five priority areas of country’s development.

Improving how courts engage with the complicated legal problems of individuals like Ms. Rahimova requires modern, technological solutions. The  ‘Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan’, a joint project of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has been working to develop and establish e-governance tools that are helping to remove red tape and bureaucracy and increase the speed of case consideration.

These efforts include bringing and sharing expertise and best practices on how to information communication technology (ICT) can be applied to the judicial sector and execution extensive training programmes for almost 500 judiciary personnel to apply e-governance tools resulted in establishment of  E-Sud in Uzbekistan.

What is E-Sud and Why It Matters?

The E-SUD national electronic case management system was developed in 2013, introducing the E-SUD into inter-district civil courts ensures openness and transparency of justice, optimizes the timing of cases and disputes, reduces the number of incomplete cases, and eliminates documentation loss.
The new tool also allows undisputed case to be filed, reviewed, and settled electronically and gives citizens the ability to monitor the progress of their case.

“Instead of long meetings with lawyers, vast quantities of paperwork, and difficult coordination with the other side (other trial participants) in my case, I can now submit my documentation through an online portal”, emphasized Ms. Rahimova. “Using ICT booths located in the civil court, I have almost instant access to electronic information that allows me to follow the progress of my case. Appearances in court are also minimized, so I have to take less time off from work”.

From Piloting to Replication  

In 2013, E-Sud was piloted only in Zangiata inter-district civil court of Tashkent region, however, throughout its implementation, the ‘Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan’ joint project has worked to make technological solutions standard across eight key regions of Uzbekistan and to establish public-friendly courthouses in these regions. Already, the E-SUD system and other technical enhancements have resulted in faster processing of documentation. For example, the movement of petitions increased five-fold from 2015 to 2016 (25,000 to 123,000), while the number of petitions accepted rose six-fold from 14,000 to 85,000, in the eight targeted regions where E-SUD was first implemented.
 
“On the administrative side, ICT systems allow us to process requests faster and more efficiently. This combined with tools for better public engagement, means we can more easily understand the needs of Uzbekistan’s citizens,” said Sherzod Rajabov, chairperson of Mirzo-Ulugbek inter-district civil court of Tashkent city. “I would like to draw special attention to the fact that since the beginning of 2016 more than 62,000 applications have been submitted to our inter-district court via E-SUD, which indicates a rising interest in the system by the public, legal entities, and lawyers. This system’s convenience certainly makes the work of law professionals easier – we can make and deliver decisions faster. The upshot of this is that people can have faster access to the justice they need and deserve.”

A Critical Foundation

International experts have been careful to emphasize that in order for e-governance tools to be truly successful, there has to be an underlying foundation of good governance in place. And recent work in this direction, particularly last year’s reform legislation, and this year’s national focus, has been promising.

Wide spread agreement on the importance of maintaining the judiciary as a separate branch of state power has led to reforms that  encourage the independence of courts from the executive departments and are more likely to guarantee civil rights and freedom. Reforms have also focused on encouraging positive relationships between the courts and citizens. ICT solutions, like the information booths set up at court buildings, have helped citizens to channel feedback into courts.

Future Directions

Key project goal is to ensure that the more isolated regions of the country also benefit from ICT enhancements. Although the task is complicated by the isolation of these areas and the resulting technical difficulties, the government’s 2017 Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interests has a focus on isolated areas that will hopefully result in the availability of electronic judicial services nationwide.