From November 16-20, 2015, ten judges from the Supreme Court, Supreme Economic Court, regional and inter-district civil courts visited Estonia to learn from their robust experience in using IT solutions in court administration. The study tour was organized in conjunction with the Estonian E-Governance Academy (eGA) and joint project of the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) “Uzbekistan Rule of Law Partnership” (RLP) project, with cost sharing from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and USAID.
Increasingly, technology facilitates access to justice, particularly in terms of improving justice sector efficiencies. The exchange was a part of USAID’s assistance to the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan in expanding their E-SUD electronic case management system into additional civil courts. Currently, three courts are now set to launch and use E-SUD, and it is planned to expand to eight courts in and around Tashkent by 2017. In order to ease the transition to electronic case management and ensure nationwide implementation of the E-SUD system, the Uzbek judiciary is seeking to find examples of best international practices from world leaders in e-governance and e-justice.
Estonia was chosen deliberately because they are one of the leaders in developing e-governance. Today in Estonia, 38% or 500,000 of their total population of 1.3 million people use government services almost entirely online. This includes 95% of 2013 tax declarations filed online, and 100% of general practitioners accessing digital prescriptions. In the justice sector specifically, Estonia introduced “E-Toimik”, an online information system which allows litigants and their representatives to electronically submit procedural court documents and obtain progress milestones through virtual notification. The system allows synergies between and among different trial courts, police, bailiffs, attorneys, and other involved parties. For example, a single parent can apply for alimony without making a trip to the court house.
Over the course of the study visit, the participants held meetings with six different entities including the Estonian Chief Justice Priit Pikamae, visited the Supreme Court of Estonia, the e-Governance Academy, the Ministry of Justice, Centre of Registers and Information Systems and the Data Protection Inspectorate. In addition, participants observed the use of information systems in three different district courts in Tallinn, Tartu and Jõgeva.
Two primary lessons were learned from the Estonian experience:
(a) Introducing the e-justice system is a long and ongoing process, which will require continuously upgrading available electronic systems in court administration based on differing expectations of judges, court personnel and court users;
(b) Need for enhanced synergies among various trial courts and broader interplay/interaction with electronic systems from other government agencies.
Based on what they learned during their week-long Estonian experience, the RLP project developed four recommendations to improve the e-justice system through enhancing the legal environment, upgrading the E-SUD system and improving court administration mechanisms. Specifically:
Improve existing data flow between the information systems of various courts and government bodies by reviewing and enhancing the data exchange protocols, as well as developing additional modules to the E-SUD system to enable data exchange among courts of various instances and between the judiciary and other government agencies;
Develop amendments to the civil procedural code and internal regulations aimed at introduction of simplified procedures allowing claims to be settled without formal court hearings;
Conduct functional analysis of a court, and based on the results of the analysis, test in one pilot court the introduction of two positions in a civil court: judge assistant and court manager, which will help ease judges’ workload;
Design and pilot under the E-SUD system, randomized case distribution assignment to judges in civil courts to ensure judges’ independence.
The Uzbek judicial participants obtained a breadth of knowledge and learned international best practices in e-governance which will contribute to further improvements in the Uzbek e-justice system and launch of the E-SUD system in civil courts across the country.