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Judicial Reforms of Uzbekistan - A New Era, New Approaches

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Dilshod Aripov,
Advisor to the Director of the
Supreme School of Judges under the
Supreme Judicial Council of the
Republic of Uzbekistan
Judicial reforms of Uzbekistan - a new era, new approaches
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[1]. 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[2].
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”[3] 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”[4] 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”[5], 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”[6] 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[7]. 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[8].
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.


FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN SOCIETY: MODERN TRENDS AND REALITIES

“Of course, many local officials do not like sharp and critical content [in the press]. They disrupt their peaceful and carefree existence. But openness and freedom of speech are the demand of the times, the demand of the reforms in Uzbekistan.”
Shavkat Mirziyoyev,
President of the Republic of Uzbekistan


In a society where freedom of speech and press is not ensured, there is no chance for the development of mass media, as freedom of speech and press is one of the main conditions for democratic development and formation of civil society. Thus, freedom of speech and press is the “cardiovascular” system of democracy.
Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan provides that everyone`s right to freedom of thought and speech shall be considered as his/her personal rights, which was implemented into the practice by the Laws “On guarantees and freedoms of information”, “On principles and guarantees of information freedoms”, “On protection of journalistic activities”, “On mass media”, “On openness of activities of state authorities and management bodies” and many others. Thus, more than 10 laws and more than 100 legal acts have been adopted aimed at developing mass media, publishing and printing and strengthening freedom of speech and information.
Unfortunately, keeping the state at a distance from freedom of speech and press for years has left its “results”. Uzbekistan was listed among states with the lowest rating of freedom of speech, transparency and human rights. Serious disparities between real and posted statistics, forceful concealment of facts (forced labor, cotton monopoly, deplorable state of human rights, impoverishment of the population, etc.), attempts to hinder press` efforts to highlight facts have altogether resulted in Uzbekistan being considered as authoritarian state with no freedom of speech and trade. This even resulted in adopting restrictions on the trade with Uzbek nation`s wealth and pride – Uzbek cotton. From the first days of presidentship, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, feeling that the situation was approaching the “red line” and being aware of possible consequences of such situation, had paid a great attention to the development of the freedom of speech. As a result, press and mass media started obtaining freedom.
How can we feel those changes? In the past 4-5 years, independent national Internet publications able to attract millions of audiences have been formed. Many private TV and radio channels have been launched. If in 2019 there were 559 sources of information services in state and non-state organizations - official websites, channels on social networks - by the end of 2021, this number reached 2410. The practice of immediate reaction by the ministries and other government agencies to critical statements of mass media representatives, including bloggers, have been launched. The increase of the response rate by government agencies to critical materials from 12% in 2018 to almost 90% in 2020 and almost 100% in 2021 can serve as a confirmation to the above.
A group of bloggers, which is not afraid of revealing problems with a number of followers more than that of some official publication, has appeared in Uzbekistan. Noteworthy that in the 2000s, journalists used to be pressurized and banned for telling the truth, but today, a blogger, who reveals problems and issues is being rewarded by the state. Now, the journalistic investigations of problems are not being prosecuted or punished. It has become natural for a journalist or blogger to hold a microphone and appear in front of a minister or a senior official asking them questions. Noteworthy that that the leader, who once did not want to face the press and was afraid of it, has also developed the skill of communicating with the media. The principle of openness and transparency of state agencies has been established not on paper, but in reality. It will not be an exaggeration to say that covering the activities of ministries, committees, hokims and law-enforcement agencies through the websites of these organizations or other social networks has become part of normal daily work.
Ensuring implementation of the constitutional rights of citizens on freedom of speech and information, developing the media sector, strengthening the role of the mass media in the socio-political and socio-economic spheres of the state were identified as main directions of the state policy. In particular, by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. PF-4947 dated February 7, 2017, the “Strategy of Actions on the five priority directions of the development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021” highlighted strengthening the role of mass media as a priority direction of development of the state. As part of the action strategy, the decrees of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan from August 11, 2017 “On further improvement of management in the press and information sector”, from February 2, 2019 “On additional measures for the further development of the information sector and mass communications”, from August 9, 2017 “On the establishment of the public fund “Ilkhom” to support the creators of Uzbekistan”, from August 10, 2017 “On measures to further develop the activities of the Creative Union of Journalists of Uzbekistan”, from August 15 “On additional measures to further develop the activities of cultural and art organizations, creative associations and mass media, and to stimulate the work of industry employees” have become an important step towards development of mass media.
The major reforms carried out in the field are aimed at ensuring implementation of the constitutional rights of citizens on freedom of speech and information, strengthening the role of mass media in this regard, creating equal conditions for them in the media market, protecting the rights of journalists, developing state support mechanisms for the development of printing and information-library activities. In order to systematize application of legislation in the field of information, promote and develop projects of normative legal documents aimed at the development of mass media, press, publishing-press and information-library activities, a special agency – the Center for Mass Communication Issues of the Information and Mass Communication Agency was established within the structure of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the basis of the former Center of the Press and Information Agency of Uzbekistan.
It should be noted separately that within the framework of the Strategy of Actions, the legal framework for media liberalization and freedom of speech was improved in Uzbekistan, and 12 legal documents were adopted in the last five years. In particular, by the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. 476 from April 18, 2018, a separate Article 51 entitled “State support of mass media” was added to the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Mass Media”. According to the article, mass media should be provided with benefits and preferences in terms of taxes and other mandatory payments and tariffs, financial support through the system of state subsidies and state grants. In addition, according to the Article 19 of the Law, the period of state registration of mass media was reduced from one month to fifteen days. Additionally, if previous edition of the Article 22 of the law stated the decision of refusal to register of mass media could be appealed only to the court, now, a special review mechanism has been introduced in order to investigate the reasons of refusal.
The adoption of these documents has become a real reason for fundamental changes in the field. In some sense, the goals have been achieved to some extent. In particular, compared to 1991, number of mass media in our state has increased by 4 times, publishing houses by 13 times, and printing companies by 12 times, and their material and technical base and human resources have significantly improved.
As one of the bright results of the reforms in the field, the International Press Club was established in our country, its format and working method was a novelty for our national media environment, and it attracted attention and trust of not only journalists, but also the general public. Another noteworthy event has become establishment of the Information and Mass Communications Agency under the Presidential Administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the basis of the Press and Information Agency of Uzbekistan in order to effectively implement the state policy in the field of information in new conditions. This agency is responsible for a number of tasks aimed at coordinating media activities, protecting the rights and interests of journalists, strengthening cooperation with foreign media companies, creating opportunities of full use of foreign web resources and sites, telling shortly, ensuring the diversity of opinions in the information field. After the establishment of the Agency, great importance was attached to the incorporation of information services in all government agencies. This entails that more than a thousand information services are operating today. This is due to the fact that unless openness and transparency do not start from the highest point, the expected results will not be achieved. There is a great need for timely delivery of decisions and decrees, legislative documents to the population for the benefit of society and people. This, in turn, leads to situation of spreading of biased and incorrect information by unreliable sources.
As one of the latest steps taken in the development of the media sector, the decision of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan No. 294 dated June 28, 2022 "On measures to support mass media and develop the field of journalism" can be recognized.
This document was adopted in order to implement the development strategy of New Uzbekistan, as well as to strengthen the protection of legal interests of mass media and to develop the field of journalism. It defines a number of tasks related to the support of mass media, electronic and printed publications.
At this point, it is necessary to emphasize that law enforcement agencies also have an important role in ensuring freedom of press and speech in Uzbekistan. The release of a number of journalists and bloggers, who were imprisoned for different periods of time or involved in the investigation process until 2017-2018, or the termination of investigative actions against them, indicates a sharp change in the attitude towards free thinkers in the society. Another noteworthy point is that public coverage of the achievements and shortcomings in the field with the efforts of the press services of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor's Office and the judicial system makes its due contribution to ensuring freedom of speech.
In order to continue the reforms in this field more consistently, the new “Development Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2022-2026” has put forward other important tasks such as building a people-friendly state by increasing human dignity and further developing a free civil society, further strengthening of the role of mass media and protection of professional activities of journalists, taking measures to provide additional support by the state to the mass media that are operating and covering state policy in the field of inter-ethnic relations, illegal interference and obstruction in the media's activities, further strengthening of liability pressurizing or confiscating illegally materials or documents from media representatives, and creating an international “Media Forum” with the participation of foreign and national journalists and experts.
In conclusion, in the Republic of Uzbekistan, significant work is being done to ensure freedom of speech, to reorganize the system of the information and mass communications sector, and to increase the role of mass media in solving the problematic issues of socio-political and socio-economic development.
[1] “Judicial reforms in Uzbekistan in the focus of foreign experts” (Ўзбекистондаги суд-ҳуқуқ ислоҳотлари хорижий экспертлар нигоҳида), July 28, 2021. https://uza.uz/uz/posts/ozbekistondagi-sud-huquq-islohotlari-xorizhiy-ekspertlar-nigohida_288055
[2]“Judicial reforms in Uzbekistan in the focus of foreign experts” (Ўзбекистондаги суд-ҳуқуқ ислоҳотлари хорижий экспертлар нигоҳида), July 28, 2021. https://uza.uz/uz/posts/ozbekistondagi-sud-huquq-islohotlari-xorizhiy-ekspertlar-nigohida_288055
[3] Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, July 24, 2020 No. PD-6034. https://lex.uz/docs/4910826
[4] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, July 28, 2021.No. LRU-703. https://lex.uz/docs/6118937
[5] Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, January 13, 2021 No. PD-6134. https://lex.uz/docs/5215806
[6] Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, May 12, 2018 No. PD-5441. https://lex.uz/docs/3731060

[7] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 16, 2021.No. LRU-716. https://lex.uz/docs/5637426
[8] Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, October 4, 2021.No. LRU-720. https://lex.uz/docs/5667137
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