TASHKENT -- A US-funded electronic legal documentation management system is gaining popularity among Uzbekistanis.
The E-SUD system, launched in Uzbekistan in 2013 with the assistance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), speeds up court cases for Uzbekistanis by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy.
The system now operates in all of Uzbekistan's civil courts.
"For the user, E-SUD looks like an ordinary website," Makhmud Abbosov, an employee at the Yashnobod District Civil Court in Tashkent, told Caravanserai. "It allows users to file claims and fill out applications with civil courts, attach documents, receive notifications concerning the date and time of a hearing, receive summons, and become acquainted with case materials."
"Without this system, you had to go to court at each stage," he said.
Last October, the Rule of Law Partnership in Uzbekistan, a project supported by the country's Supreme Court, USAID and the UNDP, provided computer equipment, valued at 489.7 million UZS ($60,000), to connect courts in the Fergana Valley to the E-SUD system.
Saving time and money
"Prior to the introduction of E-SUD, all court paperwork was processed manually, and resolutions, rulings and other documents were frequently lost or delayed for months," Muslima Khakimova, a lawyer from Tashkent, told Caravanserai.
In the past, Uzbekistanis rarely bothered to defend their rights in court because they knew it would inflict an "enormous burden on their time and nerves", Abror Musakov, a resident of Tashkent, told Caravanserai.
Last year, 40% of all applications filed with the courts were sent through E-SUD, the UNDP reported in February.
The implementation of the E-SUD system has reduced the average number of court visits per case from 6-7 to 2-3, added the UNDP. Expenses for both defendants and plaintiffs have fallen by 10%.
Also in 2017, E-SUD helped 3,000 women in remote regions to collect alimony for their children.
Using such technological innovations in Uzbekistan's courts is an important step for the country's development, say international specialists.
"We welcome Uzbekistan's intentions to ensure the rule of law in the country, the independence of the courts, and the protection of human rights and interests," said Helena Fraser, UN Resident Co-ordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan, at a roundtable February 7 at the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan.
"Citizens [have begun] to really feel these changes," she said, according to the Supreme Court press office. "The accessibility of the courts has increased, and the transparency of their activities has been ensured through the introduction of information and communication technologies."
Other judicial reforms under way
Additional efforts are under way to reform Uzbekistan's judicial system, which Khakimova described as "one of the most cumbersome, bureaucratic and opaque systems" in the country.
The implementation of the E-SUD system is fully in line with judicial and legal reforms initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2017.
During a video conference with high-ranking executive-branch officials and judges last June, Mirziyoyev severely criticised judges' indifference to concerns expressed by the public. He stressed the importance of preventing bureaucratic arbitrariness.
"Our main goal is to strengthen public trust in the judicial system by protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens, turning the court into a true 'abode of justice'," Mirziyoyev said at the time, according to his press office.
On November 30, Mirziyoyev signed a new law, "On Additional Measures to Strengthen Guarantees of Civil Rights and Liberties in Judicial Activities".
"The law substantially expands the rights of citizens to self-defence and the chance to be acquitted," Khakimova said. "Now police must videotape the collection of evidence. [The government] introduced an article in the criminal code for falsifying evidence, and [the government] increased liability for perjury and false denunciation."
Among other measures, the law states that courts may not accept evidence obtained under physical or psychological duress, she added.