E-Justice System in Uzbekistan Proves Its Worth Amid COVID-19
After USAID support with electronic case management, courts stay operational despite quarantine
Aziza Artikova is a lawyer in Urgench city in western Uzbekistan. Most of her caseload focuses on alimony, inheritance and other matters related to domestic law. While her city’s streets are now unusually empty, there are just as many, if not more people, in need of her legal assistance.
“It’s hardly surprising that when people can’t go to work or even leave their home because of COVID-19, and finances are limited, tempers flare and conflicts arise more easily in households,” said Aziza. “Additionally, people break quarantine rules for one reason or another, and then need my help with legal representation.”
With significant fines in place for breaches of quarantine rules, community-level lawyers like Aziza are also dealing with administrative cases against those accused of breaking social distancing rules.
“Not all cases can be resolved during the quarantine, but our e-justice system certainly has helped assure people that their concerns will be addressed in due course,” Aziza said.
In 2014, USAID introduced the E-SUD (Russian and Uzbek for “court”) electronic court system, a digital network to submit and process court cases to improve court management. It has since been successfully installed in all 89 of Uzbekistan’s civil courts. E-SUD has replaced paper-based bureaucracy, and resulted in more transparent and efficient court proceedings, reducing the time it takes to file cases and publish court decisions. In January this year, the E-SUD system was merged into the broader E-xSUD information system of economic, administrative and criminal courts, creating a unified electronic justice system in Uzbekistan.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Uzbekistan, this unified e-justice system has been a vital tool to keep the national judicial system operational through the quarantine.
“E-justice systems are demonstrating their true value as a way for citizens to seek justice without violating quarantine,” said Doniyorbek Eshchanov, a judge on civil cases from the Romitan inter-district court in the Bukhara region.
“While we’re currently only able to hear the most urgent cases in court, we have still been able to receive applications and citizens can be assured that their concerns are being heard,” he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts are not holding hearings on claims submitted digitally unless they are urgent. The cases still heard in court are related to domestic violence or other cases involving the risk of people’s physical safety.
“Every case submitted through our e-justice systems will be paid due attention,” said Judge Eshchanov. “Because of E-SUD’s integration across the courts, all lawyers, court staff, and judges like myself have been able to work from home. My fellow judges and I are reviewing all claims and requests that have been submitted, and cases that are not urgent will be heard after the COVID-19 quarantine ends.”
“People who have submitted these claims should feel confident that, despite the current reality, everyone will have access to justice.” — Judge Eshchanov
The USAID-supported Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan project works closely with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the High Judicial Council and other key stakeholders in the national judiciary and justice sectors.
Beyond the integrated e-justice systems, the project introduced other digital tools to Uzbekistan’s courts, such as digital databases of case files, teleconferencing equipment, and a new interactive Supreme Court website. Lawyers like Aziza are using Telegram and Zoom to engage with their clients from a distance, while legal professionals have been leveraging Facebook groups to collaborate with each other from their home offices.
The public can also access free legal advice and support online. Students and professors operating the free legal clinic at the Tashkent State University of Law have continued to offer legal support through a dedicated Telegram channel, while the project — in collaboration with the Supreme Court — is sharing other legal information particularly important during the quarantine through mass media.
“The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be passing, but the quarantine is clearly not over yet, and we are waiting to see how this situation plays out,” Aziza said. “I am confident that E-SUD will keep providing citizens access to justice. I am glad that, thanks to this online platform, I can continue to do my part to serve my community especially during this trying time.”
About the Author
Jaloliddin Badalov is the PR and Outreach Specialist at the Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan Project.