TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan is pushing to repair the deficiencies in its court system, which include low acquittal rates and shortages of jurists.
Starting June 1, the country will have four categories of courts: civil, administrative, criminal and economic. Also, a new body, the Supreme Judicial Council, will appoint judges and monitor their adherence to ethics.
Up to now, the country had three types of courts: criminal, civil and economic.
The changes stem from constitutional amendments and judicial reforms that President Shavkat Mirziyoyev introduced in April. Last year, when he was running for president, his campaign promises included judicial reform.
Several citizens described their unsatisfactory experiences with a court system that seemed more interested in showing them the door than serving them.
"I was the plaintiff in an administrative case," Oybek Bakhriev of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "I had to wait in line in the corridor."
"Each group was admitted to the courtroom for 10 to 12 minutes. Neither a defender nor prosecutor was present ... The judge asked for our names, read out his decision and ended the proceedings."
Another Tashkent resident, Timur Ruzimetov, had a bad experience in trying to dispute a traffic fine.
"I wasn't even summoned to a court session!" he told Caravanserai. "I received a letter upholding the fine."
Far too few acquittals
Uzbekistan's acquittal rate is very low, making observers wonder how closely judges are examining the evidence.
In the first quarter of 2017, criminal courts reviewed 15,792 cases and delivered only 50 acquittals, according to a May 1 statement by the Supreme Court.
During the same period, the Supreme Court received 5,500 complaints and annulled 302 lower court rulings as a result. The large number of complaints seems to be another indicator of public discontent.
"The courts can't cope with their workload," Muslima Khakimova, a lawyer from Tashkent, told Caravanserai. "Because judges can't devote enough time to their cases, most often they just parrot the investigator's conclusion."
Constitutional changes, new courts
Various reforms that Mirziyoyev introduced April 12 include creating administrative courts and reforming the economic courts. Those reforms take effect June 1.
He also condensed two supreme courts -- hearing different types of cases -- into one.
"The economic courts will replace the former courts in charge of economic cases," said Khakimova. "They'll address problems that businesses face."
Administrative courts are a new animal, she said.
"They'll review civil and administrative cases, as well as cases involving [accusations of] unlawful acts by government agencies and officials."
"Administrative cases are the ones that courts handle the most negligently now," she said. "That's why [such] cases must be addressed."
The government, seeing the need for more judges and maybe fresher minds, is working to bring new blood into the judiciary.
The country's only four-year law school, Tashkent State University of Law, is about to see an enrollment boom.
Its current freshman class numbers 450. The next freshman class will have more than 600 students, thanks to a resolution signed by Mirziyoyev.
Meanwhile, the government has instituted a maximum age for new judges at all levels. New Supreme Court judges may not exceed 70 years of age. The cut-off for new lower-level judges is age 65.
The new Supreme Judicial Council
Previously, the president was the only one who appointed or fired judges, but Mirziyoyev recently devolved some presidential powers affecting the judiciary, Miravzal Mirakulov, a legal scholar employed at the Institute for Monitoring Current Legislation (a presidential agency), wrote in an Uzbekistan National News Agency article in April.
The newly formed Supreme Judicial Council, which begins work June 1, now has that power. The senate already approved the council's first chairman, Maruf Usmonov, a former mayor of Kokand.
Usmonov nominated the remaining members of the council, whom Mirziyoyev approved.
"The council will select judges on a competitive basis from among the most qualified ... specialists," wrote Mirakulov.
The new council also will monitor judges for ethical behaviour and will review any complaints about judges that citizens might have.