Judicial reforms of Uzbekistan - a new era, new approaches
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During the past period, large-scale legal reforms have been carried out in Uzbekistan, along with all other fields. From the first years of independence, one of the important steps chosen in the way of building civil society was formation of an independent judiciary based on the principle of separation of powers.
Especially over recent years, fundamental changes and reforms have been carried out over the judiciary of our state. According to the Strategy of Actions on Five Priority Areas of Development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021, initiated by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan – Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the task of ensuring the rule of law and reforming judicial system was defined as a special priority.
This task, first of all, was directed at ensuring the real and effective protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens, achieving true independence of judiciary, strengthening legality, implementing principles of equality and competitiveness of parties in trials, strengthening the role of judicial community bodies in ensuring the true independence of judiciary, implementing principle of the judicial self-governance and ensuring openness and transparency in the formation of judicial corpus.
The large-scale judicial reforms implemented in our state are being positively evaluated by international and foreign experts. Their feedbacks are being echoed in the articles published by independent experts and in their speeches in international events.
The former Minister of Justice of Slovenia - Goran Klimenčič, positively evaluated the changes implemented in the judicial system of Uzbekistan . He marked positively the procedure of announcing court decisions and expressed the view that this procedure shall be carried out by the way of ensuring reliable protection of the personal data of parties to disputes. John Tanheim - former judge of the federal court of the state of Minnesota (USA) shared positive feedback about the judicial reforms, directed at ensuring the independence of courts and judges, having been carried out in the last five years, and noted that Uzbekistan`s such efforts is placing it in the leadership position among other Central Asian states .
It is well-known fact that everyone has the right to demand an independent and impartial judicial proceeding. This right is reflected in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in a number of other international documents as well as is included into our national legislation. Only an independent court can instill confidence that infringed rights can be recovered and protected by an impartial and transparent trial.
In this regard, the reforms planned to be carried out on the basis of the Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan envisage further democratization and liberalization of the judiciary, strengthening the true independence of the judiciary, and improving mechanisms for reliable protection of the rights and legal interests of citizens.
The Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated July 24, 2020 “On additional measures to further improve the operation of courts and increase the efficiency of justice” has played a significant role in launching a qualitatively new stage of the systematic reforms. Within the framework of the Decree, the following priority tasks related to the elimination of problems on the way of improving the institutional foundations of justice provisions and ensuring the true independence of the judiciary were implemented:
first, organizational and structural changes have been introduced into the judicial system in order to expand the mechanisms of ensuring the equality and competitiveness of parties to make impartial, transparent and fair court decisions;
second, courts of general jurisdiction of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, regions and Tashkent city have been established on the basis of equivalent courts of civil, criminal and economic matters by the way of maintaining strict specialization of judges and establishing separate judicial panels for court proceedings. Besides this, those courts are chaired by one court chairman. The chairman has his/her deputies, who lead the judicial panels for civil, criminal and economic matters. This serves to form a uniform judicial practice in the localities and to prevent unnecessary waste of resources of physical and legal persons due to the fragmentation of courts;
third, the institution of supervisory review of court decisions has been abolished. As a result, repeated review of court cases in several instances in the order of supervision, unjustified and purposeless increase in the volume of work in the courts have been eliminated, thereby, the emergence of corruption factors has been estopped;
fourth, the procedure for the prosecutor`s participation in court has been adapted to advanced foreign experience and international standards. In particular, legal mechanisms have been created allowing termination of criminal case on the grounds of rehabilitation if public prosecutor withdraws from the charge, recalling cases from courts by the prosecutor only if there is an appeal from the parties, exclusion the participation of the prosecutor on his own initiative during civil and economic proceedings initiated by other parties. Strengthening of such provisions with legal norms has certainly served to ensure the independence of judiciary, the principles of equality and competitiveness of parties in the court;
fifth, the department of cooperation with the public and mass media has been established within the structure of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan. As a result, press services have been established in the structure of regional and equivalent courts. This has become important in ensuring the transparency of the activities of judicial bodies.
The adoption of the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Courts” on July 28, 2021 has become a new step towards ensuring the true independence of courts and inviolability of judges, as well as strengthening transparency in the activities of courts. As a result of the establishment of legal guarantees of openness of court cases by the law, the opportunity for media representatives to participate in the court session, without hindrance and to take photos, video and audio recordings in the prescribed manner, have been created.
It is important to note that judicial reforms are not only important for strengthening the independence of courts, but also for expanding the rights of physical and legal persons to submit appeals to courts. In particular, as a result of changes and additions to the laws at the initiative of the Head of State, the following legal guarantees have been introduced, aimed at ensuring the right of individuals to submit claims to courts:
— the current rates of state duties of submitting claims to courts have been revised and reduced;
— from May 6, 2017, the Representative of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan for the protection of rights and legal interests of business entities has been provided with the right to submit claims to courts in the interests of business entities without paying a state duty;
— from October 11, 2017, councils of farmers, farms and landowners have been provided with the right to file claims to courts, in the interests of farmers and landowners without paying the state duty, against the wrongful actions or inactions of state bodies or public officials;
— from July 4, 2018, it has been determined that the paid state duty is to be returned in case if a dispute is resolved through mediation;
— from April 24, 2019, it has been determined that claimant, who submitted a claim to courts regarding the protecting rights of children is to be exempted from paying state duty and other fees;
— from September 3, 2019, victims of harassment and violence have been exempted from paying state duty when submitting claims to court in order to seek compensation for material and moral damages;
— from September 12, 2019, the Agency for the Protection of Consumer Rights has been exempted from paying the state duty on claims submitted to courts for the purpose of protecting consumer rights.
A new judicial structure has been established within the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, empowered with an exclusive right to consider investment disputes and cases related to competition between individuals or legal entities and state bodies, when then amount of the dispute exceeds 20 million US dollars. The parties wishing to submit such claims can refer directly to the Supreme Court, which is entitled to consider such claims as the court of the first instance.
According to the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to fundamentally improve the system of financing the activities of judicial bodies” , starting from 2021, it has been determined that the salaries of judges and judicial personnel of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Court, judges of lower courts, staff of the Supreme School of Judges is to be financed from the State Budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan. It can be noted that the adjustment of the monthly salary of judges to international standards corresponds to their social status. This, in turn, demonstrates one of the additional factors of the independence of courts and judges.
The reforms carried out in the last five years aimed at increasing the status of advocates and preventing illegal interference in their activities has led to an increase of the effectiveness of their activities. For example, on May 12, 2018, the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to radically increase effectiveness of the institute of bar and expand independence of lawyers” was adopted, according to which the activities of the Chamber of Advocates of the Republic of Uzbekistan were revised so as to adapt it to meet such aims as: establishing strong and independent bar corpus; creating a transparent system of granting the status of an attorney; strengthening the guarantees of lawyer`s professional activity; introduction of innovation and communication technologies to the field of advocacy.
In accordance with the amendments introduced to the Criminal Procedure Code, a suspect caught in the scene of crime has been granted with a right to privately meet the defense attorney before the procedural actions related to him start to be carried out. Besides this, any kind of explanatory letters or testimony from suspects, accused or defendant may be obtained only with the written permission of the investigator, prosecutor or judge and with the presence of the defense counsel (except in cases of refusal of the defense counsel).
It should be noted that in recent years fundamental reforms aimed at reducing the workload of judges and increasing their efficiency have been continued.
The Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On amendments and additions to certain legal documents of the Republic of Uzbekistan in connection with creation of more favorable conditions for submitting claims to courts and the introduction of a simplified procedure for civil proceedings” was adopted . As a consequence, a separate and new chapter was introduced into the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Uzbekistan. In the case, if the value of a claim does not exceed twenty times of the amount of basic calculation - for legal entities, ten times – for individual entrepreneurs, and five times – for physical persons, then, such cases are considered according to a simplified procedure. Simplified procedure entails that the decision on the case is made without conducting a court hearing and listening to the parties` testimonies.
Article 33 of the UN Charter states that mediation is a method of resolving international disputes, and that parties involved in any dispute that may threaten the maintenance of peace and security shall initially resolve the dispute through negotiations, inquiries, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, or settlement. It should be noted that before referring the dispute between parties to courts, there was no mechanism during which the parties were explained about possibility of concluding a settlement agreement or resolving dispute in alternative ways.
When a dispute was resolved by courts, parties would bear excessive costs in the form of state duty and waste excessive time. In this regard, the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On additions and amendments to the Code of Administrative Liability” became an important legal basis for democratization and liberalization of the judicial system of our state, protection of human rights, freedoms and legal interests.
According to this document, for the first time in our national legislation, a new procedure was introduced according to which a case on misconduct entailing administrative liability can be terminated in case if parties mutually reconcile the dispute. If we take a glance at the statistics, in 2018-2021, 2,489 of the lawsuits accepted for processing by the economic courts were left unheard due to the mediation agreement reached between the parties of those disputes .
The introduction of modern information technologies into the activities of courts is being carried out rapidly. Citizens have been provided with an opportunity to apply remotely to courts, participate in court hearings and obtain necessary information and data. In particular, the following interactive services have been launched in the court system:
— “Claim” (exsud.sud.uz) – a service to send claims to courts in electronic form, monitor the process of considering cases online and receive judgments in e-form;
— “Electronic payment system” (billing.sud.uz) – a single electronic payment system enabling calculation of the amount of state duty and court fees;
— “Collection of judgements” (public.sud.uz) – a database of court judgements;
— “Samples” (templates.sud.uz) – a database of samples of claims and applications for civil and economic proceedings;
— “Calculator” (calculate.sud.uz) – an electronic calculator to evaluate the state duty to be paid for civil and economic litigation;
— “Schedule of Meetings” (jadval.sud.uz) – an online database of cases assigned to courts of first, appeal and cassation instances;
— “Electronic reception” (qabul.sud.uz) – a system of online registration for personal meetings with the management of the Supreme Court.
— “Video conferencing” (vka.sud.uz) – a video conferencing system allowing participants to join court hearings online.
— a videoconference communication system was established between courts and penal institutions.
As a result of these reforms, confidence of citizens in the judicial system is increasing. This can be noticed in the growing number of appeals to courts as well as increasing number of acquittals and decisions in favor of physical and legal persons. Thus, a general population has began considering courts not as a punishing body, but as a tool to protect their interests and rights. In order to further strengthen such trust, it will be necessary for courts to act without deviating from the law, to protect the interests of citizens, to restore their violated rights, to follow this path steadily, and on this basis to win the trust of the people.
Advisor to the Director of the
Supreme School of Judges under the
Supreme Judicial Council of the
Republic of Uzbekistan