THE DECREE OF THE PRESIDENT OF AZERBAIJAN SERVES TO RAISE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE JUDICIARY
As it is known, on April 3, 2019, the President of Azerbaijan signed the Decree "On Deepening of the Reforms in the Judicial-Legal System". Minister of Justice, Chairman of the Judicial-Legal Council Fikrat Mammadov shared his views on the works done on the execution of the Decree in the interview with AZERTAC.
– Fikrat Mammadov, first of all, we would like to know your opinion on the main purpose and role of the Decree of the President on deepening of the judicial-legal reforms, which is of great interest to the public and including a number of issues and innovations on judicial activity.
– Independent judicial power plays an exceptional role in every democratic society. Judicial-legal reforms, established by our national leader Heydar Aliyev in our country, and taking democratic legal statehood way, are successfully continued and developed under the leadership of the President Ilham Aliyev, important decisions are adopted in order to increase the effectiveness of justice, to develop the appeals and access to the courts, and consistent measures are taken.
Undoubtedly, the development of justice and judicial system should be regarded as a real manifestation of the comprehensive reforms undertaken in our country in the past. Thus, today Azerbaijan is making significant progress in all spheres of public life. According to the World Bank s report “Doing Business 2019”, our country is one of the ten most reforming countries in the world.
When we look at the new presidency period of our Head of State, we see a wider scope of reforms in our country. Realization of the special projects on the initiative of the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva should be emphasized on improvement of people’s wellbeing, in the field of rendering social services under the easy, transparent conditions providing citizen’s satisfaction.
Naturally, these reforms could not be avoided by the judiciary and the justice system. The Decree on April 3, 2019, being the next manifestation of the exceptional value given to the judicial power by the head of state, is an important integral part of the judicial-legal reforms made in this field.
The main purpose of the decree is to increase the quality and efficiency of justice by accelerating the process of formation of a fair trial in society that meets the requirements of modern times and having a firm standing in society, generally to increase public confidence, accessibility to the judiciary and transparency in its activities.
This Decree determines the strategic priorities of the future development of the justice and judicial system, as well as has a program character being a "road map" with exceptional importance.
The Decree is aimed at developing entrepreneurship, which is crucial for economic growth, further enhancing access to the court, preventing interventions in judicial activity, increasing efficiency of execution and eliminating procrastination, reducing judges’ workload and solution of other problems.
Those problems were urgently discussed in detail in the Board meeting of the Ministry of Justice and large meeting of the Judicial-Legal Council and concrete measures were defined. At the same time, special working group consisting of the officials of the Ministry of Justice, Judicial-Legal Council, Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s Office was established and analyses were made on forthcoming issues, international experience was learned, joint proposals were prepared on complex legislative, institutional and practical measures, and other measures were realized.
– A little more information about the works done on the execution of the Decree would be interesting for the readers.
– First of all, by taking into consideration the actuality and public significance of the Decree, I would like to note the large public discussions on the issues and innovations coming from this important document held by presence of legal society, relative organizations and civil society institutions. So, there were held large public events – conferences, forums and presentations about main directions of the judicial-legal reforms, including enlargement of appeals to the courts by the entrepreneurs, application of “Electron court” information system for the different levels of the society, representatives of the business communities and diplomatic corps jointly with the American Chamber of Commerce, National Confederation of Entrepreneurs (Employers) Organization and World Bank.
The Ministry has organized such events in the regions, including in Ganja and Lankaran by presence of the entrepreneurs.
It should be noted that these measures are very important for the study of public opinion in the performance of the forthcoming duties and the consideration of proposals of civil society representatives.
The above-mentioned joint working group drafted up to 40 draft normative acts in a short time within the frame of the commissions specified by the Decree.
These projects are aimed at establishment of new qualified courts, which will consider the disputes on entrepreneurship, improvement of mechanisms of prevention of interference in judicial activity, formation of single judicial experience, automation of judicial activity, strengthening of social protection of the judges and judiciary officials, increase of efficiency of execution of forensic examination and court decisions. At the same time, for the first time, a draft of the Executive Code has been developed and is in the process of coordination with the relevant authorities in order to systematize the standard acts governing the activities in the execution field.
It should be noted that, as a result of amendments made to the legislation on decriminalization and other issues on the execution of the Order of the President of Azerbaijan dated February 10, 2017 on humanization of the punishment policy, about 5,000 prisoners were completely released from prison or the sentence was mitigated and the number of detainees entering the detention facilities decreased by 25%.
In this regard, by learning advanced international experience, draft laws were prepared on the issues of decriminalization of some acts, larger use of alternative punishments and application of new progressive law institutions by making about 400 amendments to the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedural Code, Code of Administrative Offences and Punishments.
Some draft laws have already been adopted by the Milli Mejlis, establishment of new qualified courts were approved for the purpose of simplification of appeals to the courts by the entrepreneurs, judges’ guaranty was reasonably increased, and other issues on improvement of efficiency of judicial activity had been solved.
These laws, adopted by the legislative initiative of the head of state, will play an important role in maintenance of the effective activity of the judicial system.
Besides it, conferences are held with the judges and justice officials on timely, true and due execution of the measures specified by the Decree, relevant instructions and recommendations are given.
Republic-wide conference was held by presence of the heads and employees of all local executive organizations on implementation of forthcoming duties on the activity of the Executive Service of the Ministry of Justice, concrete steps were made for application of “Electron execution” information system, prevention of procrastination and abuse cases, and serious measures were made about the executive officials causing rude violations.
With regard to the implementation of the Decree, as well as the dramatic increase in the number of enforcement services, reaching almost 900,000 last year, alternative mechanisms for enforcement of decisions of courts and other bodies, as well as international practice and legislation of various countries was learned and experience had been acquainted at place.
As a result of generalization of the abovementioned data and realized analysis, it was considered feasible to introduce a private executive institution as a pilot project in the country at the present stage for the purpose of more efficient organization of court decisions, and relevant proposals were made.
At the same time, legislation and current experience on implementation of alternative mechanisms for forensic examination activity by private organizations was analyzed, experience of some European countries was considered, organization of private expertise activity was learned at place.
A draft law has been prepared specifying the progressive provisions of modernization of forensic examination in the level of international standards, specification of the term of expert opinion, enlargement of the parties’ rights on defining the expertise, realization of examination by private structures, issue of relative licenses.
– As you mentioned, one of the most important innovations is the creation of a separate court to facilitate the access of entrepreneurs to the courts and to handle business disputes. We would like you to tell more about this.
– Improvement of access to the courts has always been in the spotlight of the head of state. Much work has been done recently to solve this problem and bring the courts closer to people and legal entities, and important changes have been made in the structure of the judicial system.
In 2007, court of appelas and economic courts were established in the regions of the republic, and in 2011, other regional courts, as well as the Institute of Administrative Justice, which plays an important role in ensuring human rights, administrative and economic courts were established in all regions.
I would like to note that specialization in courts is one of the most useful ways to increase the effectiveness of justice in the world today.Our country is also taking the necessary steps in this direction. For example, today in all and some other district (city) courts of Baku city specialization was made among the judges on consideration of criminal and civil cases.Also, since the juveniles are particularly vulnerable layer, separate cases have been set up at the Baku Grave Crimes Court. That is, the process is ongoing.
At the current level of development of our economy, the creation of a new specialized court for this activity, with the aim of improving consideration of disputes on entrepreneurship, has long been a requirement.
I would like to note that, fundamental amendments were made to the legislation in December last year at the initiative of the head of our state, including the conduct of economic disputes in electronic form, only through the "Electron Court" information system.
As a continuation of these activities promoting business development and improving the business environment, the esteemed President has identified the issue of setting up separate courts dealing with entrepreneurial disputes in the Decree.At the same time, a comprehensive analysis of civil procedural legislation in the Decree in order to provide more operative and efficient solution of business issues in the courts, enhancing the effectiveness of judicial proceedings, recommendations and instructions were given to the courts of appeal, Bar Association, National Confederation of Entrepreneurs (Employers) Organizations, Ministries of Justice, Economy and Taxes on the improvement of the law by taking into account advanced international experience.
In this regard, international experience has been studied, such judicial models existed in various countries were considered and the best experience for our country has been selected.
As I have already noted, relevant legislative acts have been adopted in this area. In accordance with the new legislation, new specialized courts - commercial and separate administrative courts - have been identified to facilitate entrepreneurs’ access to the courts and to ensure more flexible handling of cases.New Commercial and Separate Administrative Courts have been established in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Baku, Ganja, Sumgayit, Shirvan and Sheki with the abolition of existing administrative and economic courts by the decree of the President of Azerbaijan dated July 19, 2019.At present, in accordance with the recommendations and instructions of the head of state, measures are being taken to determine the jurisdiction of those courts, to provide them with appropriate buildings, equipment, other organizational and technical facilities, and to establish court offices.
The new courts are expected to have judges with deep legal knowledge and experience in a particular area. This will allow for more professional, professional review of cases and their more comprehensive and comprehensive investigation.Civil disputes related to entrepreneurial activity will be considered by newly established commercial courts, and the disputes of entrepreneurs with all state bodies, administrative bodies, including disputes related to tax and customs payments, payment of compulsory state social insurance will be considered by the administrative courts.
Commercial and administrative courts, which will start operating on January 1, 2020, will also play an important role in the analysis of judicial statistics in this area and in study of judicial practice.
Establishment of specialized courts on entrepreneurial disputes under the new legislation, as well as the establishment of appropriate panels in the Supreme court and courts of appeal, the creation of a new, more effective mechanism for resolving disputes related to entrepreneurship in the country, will improve the business environment and stimulate prevention of procrastination cases.
– Strengthening of the independence of judges and preventing unnecessary interference in their activities is also key points in the Decree.
– Yes, the effectiveness of the judiciary depends, of course, on the activities of judges. For this purpose, the Decree recommended, first of all, to the chairmen and judges of all courts to promote justice, law, impartiality, transparency, and equality in their activity for strengthening the confidence in the courts.
I must note that, the issue of judicial independence is of particular importance in all countries. In various and even in developed European countries, interference with the judiciary and other pressures are a matter of concern, and ways of eliminating negative tendencies in this area are regularly discussed at the European Justice Ministers’ conferences.
In accordance with the recommendations of the head of state, an appropriate draft law has been prepared on the establishment of additional effective mechanisms in this area, including stipulation of punishment for the impediment to the administration of justice, the severity of penalties for any pressure or unlawful influence on the judiciary, interference and discretion.
Notification of the Judicial-Legal Council by the judges about the interference in judges’ activity also is an additional mean to prevent such cases.
In this regard, according to the recommendations given by the Decree, a “Hotline” was organized at the Judicial Legal Council to ensure the independence of judges, to eliminate the interference in the courts and other negative circumstances and the opportunities were made to appeal directly to the Council.
Undoubtedly, the material support of the judiciary is more important for the effective functioning of the judiciary, as well as for provision of the objectivity, impartiality and independence of judges.
That’s why, amendments made to the Law “on Courts and Judges” according to the Decree, have significantly improved the financial provision of the judges, as well as there was defined additional salaries for all judges in the volume of their monthly salary and other guarantees are considered.
At the same time, relevant projects have been developed to differentiate the rates of public duty on the cases considered by the courts in accordance with the cost of the claims and to direct some of those fees to strengthen the social protection of court personnel.
– Increasing judges’ sense of responsibility for improving judicial activity and developing irreconcilable attitude to each offense is also important.
– That’s right. The tasks of the Head of State to improve the efficiency of justice require the organization of activities in this area at a higher level in line with new challenges.
The Judicial-Legal Council undertakes regular measures on evaluation of the activities of judges, strengthening of enforcement, elimination of violation of laws, procrastination and other negative circumstances.
Zone conferences are held in all court instances with the participation of chairmen and judges in the capital and regions, measures to increase the effectiveness of justice, existing problems in the judicial process, the possible shortcomings and the causes are analyzed in detail, impossibility of negative cases is brought into attention.
Only last year, the Council has terminated the powers of 14 judges, by evaluating their activity by fail grade in the form specified by the law, for breaches causing the citizens’ discontent. 4 chairmen were transferred to the lower positions, 2 persons were dismissed from the position, and 1 person’s authorities were terminated early.
At the same time, in accordance with the recommendations of the head of state to ensure the disciplinary liability of judges for violations of the Code of Ethical Behaviour of Judges, only in recent months disciplinary proceedings have been initiated on 40 judges, the powers of 1 judge have been terminated and 4 judges were dismissed from position. As well as, materials about 2 judges were sent to the General Department of Struggle against Corruption at the Public Prosecutor General, and measure of restraint was defined about one of them.
In accordance with the recommendations of the head of state, other means are used to increase the sense of responsibility of judges and chairmen of courts, to ensure transparency and inadmissibility of non-procedural relations.To this end, the Council has set up a special body for struggle against corruption and for Judicial monitoring, Information technologies and innovations.
These bodies conduct regular monitoring in courts, investigate on-site the appeals entered to the “Hotline” contact centre, and shortcomings are brought to the attention of the judges and chairmen, eliminating violations that cause non-procedural relations and causing civil dissatisfaction.
More than 20 courts have already been monitored by new bodies, and more than 60 violations have been brought to the attention of judges and chairmen, and disciplinary proceedings have been launched on more serious violations. The works in this area are intensified.
At the same time, the Council has established the practice of holding court hearings in order to create favourable conditions for citizens, to promptly eliminate any shortcomings and defects.
Rules have been prepared on conduction of professional monitoring on Methodology of evaluation of judges activity, due and effective organization of work in the courts, on ethical behaviour and other issues for execution of forthcoming matters and for the purpose of increase of transparency in the procedures of evaluation of professionalism of the chairmen and for improvement of criteria applied in this field. Experienced judges of the higher courts and ASAN service volunteers are involved in the Council’s activities.
– There is also an opinion that the number of judges in our country is small and the judges are overloaded. What steps are being taken in this direction?
– I would like to inform you that since 2006 the number of judges in the country has doubled and reached 600. Each judge is assigned an auxiliary state in accordance with international practice.At the same time, completion of the judicial system with high-trained judges with moral qualities within the framework of judicial reforms has always been in the spotlight.
By the way, the selection process of the candidates for the position of judge in Azerbaijan is now considered as a model in Europe for its transparency and is among the most advanced practices.It is not accidentally that, the Council of Europe and the European Union have recommended other Member States to build on our country’s positive experience in this area.
As a result of this progressive and transparent selection of candidates for the position of judge, 415 persons from more than 3,400 candidates have been selected as lawyers and have been appointed as judges after passing long-term trainings and practices in trials and in foreign countries.
At the end of last year, 108 judges elected by these rules were appointed to the post of judge of various first instance courts by the head of state. 70% of the referee’s corps is made up of young generation of referees, who have been selected by progressive rules.
However, in the past years, civil cases in the courts have increased steadily over the years, including the number of cases in which the new judicial system began to function. Also, the number of judges in Azerbaijan is much lower than the European countries.
Of course, excessive workload leads to certain deficiencies, poor quality of work solutions, and increase of cases of procrastination. The Presidential Decree on Deepening Judicial Reforms is of particular importance in this regard, increasing the number of judges by more than 200 units.
In this regard, the Judicial-Legal Council made changes to the Rules of Judges Selection this month to increase flexibility in the selection of candidates for the judiciary, as well as to create more transparent and favorable conditions for candidates.
The Judges’ Selection Committee has made a decision to ensure that the candidates’ admission is permanent, and that the State Examination Center will hold the exams using modern methods, personal computers for each candidate and groups of 200-250 people.
The next competition has been announced since July 25.
I hope that the newly appointed judges will be fully completed by these competitions.
At the same time, the issue of reducing the workload of judges by other means is always under consideration. Regular analyzes are carried out, both legislative and various institutional measures are being taken.
If we look at legislative measures that haven’t gone too far, we can see that, taking off the authorities of liquidation and termination of execution of executive orders from the courts and committing them to the executive officials has greatly facilitated the work of the courts. Also, the limitation of the institution of representation from last year, in turn, has led to the better preparation of lawsuits by professional lawyers, which has led to the reduction of groundless claims.
This year, the introduction of extra-judicial review of administrative cases in connection with the enforcement of amendments to the civil procedural legislation, the simplification of certain categories of cases has provided a basis for further workload reduction.
Another important innovation is the adoption of the Law on Mediation this year, thereby creation of mechanisms for extrajudicial resolution of civil disputes.The Ministry of Justice was entrusted to carry out enlightenment and propogation activities related to the application of the mediation process by the Presidential Decree, taking into account the special importance of this institution and the works are going on to be done in this direction.According to the Decree, also taking into account the best experience of foreign countries, measures are taken to promote effective international arbitration in our country.
I would like to particularly mention the activities of the “Electron court” information system created by the Order of the President of Azerbaijan dated February 13, 2014 in terms of facilitating access to justice, more operative consideration of cases and provision of citizen’s satisfaction.
People have had the opportunity to apply electronically without having to go to the court through the “E-Court” information system, which covers the entire process, from the moment of formation of the right to appeal to the court to the completion of execution of court decisions.Each person owning a "personal electronic cabinet", can submit documents to the court in electronic format, get acquainted with the materials of the case, and be informed about the process without coming to court.
At the same time, the audio recordings of the court proceedings, the organization of electronic document circulation, electronic publication of final court decisions, searches on the basis of various criteria, and other merits undoubtedly have a real positive effect on the easy and efficient organization of the work of judges.
In the past, courts have been equipped with the necessary infrastructure on application of the system, and in the framework of joint projects with the World Bank, the old court buildings have been reconstructed and equipped.To date, 60 percent of 111 courts have joined this system, and many components, including the Integrated Portal of Courts, the Personal Cabinet of the Court Process Attenders, Electronic Execution, the Unit Database of Court decisions, and several subsystems and modules are now being successfully applied.
The Decree of the Head of State dated April 3, 2019 gave instructions on the electronic court to cover the entire territory of the republic and ensure the harmonious functioning of the system. Necessary measures are being taken to implement these tasks.
– We thank you for the detailed interview. At the end we would like you to give brief information about the innovations in the field of justice that are of great interest to the community.
– Today, special attention is being paid to the application of electronic services, modern technologies and innovations in all fields of justice. In short, I would like to bring only some updates.Thus, in connection with the increasing demand for mobile services, the Ministry has developed a special “Electron Notary bag”.Through this "bag" with direct access to the electron notary information system and relevant banks, it is possible to carry out any notarial act and print and submit documents anywhere.
"Electron Justice kiosk" is also an interesting novelty. Only through this "kiosk" in Azerbaijan, it is possible to carry out notary actions at a distance.These "kiosks" are installed at the border, air and sea ports, railway stations. These devices provide 24-hour notary services and access to relevant documents via video conferencing. Such a kiosk has been installed at the airport for four months.
I would also like to note the Mobile Notary Portfolio, a product of Azerbaijan. By downloading the appropriate program to the phone, a citizen’s electronic notary office will be created and all information related to the activities of the notary will be provided.
In accordance with the Decree of the Head of State on the humanization of the punishment policy dated February 10, 2017, a new type of punishment, such as restriction of freedom, has been identified and the use of electronic controls has begun. Within a short period of time, these devices were manufactured in the country, and during the year 1,500 prisoners were provided with electron bangles.
Although these innovations I am referring to have been implemented in a short time, they have already attracted international interest.This month, the Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia visited Azerbaijan with a wide delegation, familiarized with the innovations and emphasized the importance of his country in benefiting from the Azerbaijani experience.
– Mr. Minister, we express our deep gratitude to You for spending your time for us and for sharing your valuable ideas, and wish you success in the implementation of reforms aimed at ensuring the rights of people.