Fred Huston, Country Director. Our work in the justice and rule of law arena in Kyrgyzstan in 2016 took place against a backdrop of ongoing public dissatisfaction with the performance of the judiciary. Many people here still try to blame the judiciary for the ills of the country.
A referendum on the Constitution in 2016 swung the balance of power towards the presidency, but also brought in changes that will affect the judiciary. First of which is a new disciplinary commission; previously, the discipline of judges had been handled by the judiciary but was under-resourced and ineffective. A new disciplinary commission now being set up will consist of one-third members of the judiciary, one-third appointees by the president and one-third MPs.
Another source of public frustration with the judiciary arose from a lack of consistency in decision-making through the country. Under another constitutional change, there’s an attempt underway to create predictability, greater efficiency and a common viewpoint on laws across the judiciary, with the Supreme Court responsible for issuing mandatory orders for all courts to consider in certain cases.
A final amendment being brought in relates to prosecutors, taking away their power to investigate and gather evidence, which will now sit in 99% of cases with the police.
Overall, for IDLO, these are all reasonable developments; in any event, the effectiveness of the new Disciplinary Commission will depend upon the competencies and ability of its members to objectively apply standards of conduct.
In terms of our own work, in 2016 we built on the progress we’ve made on issues previously tackled in other parts of the judiciary; this time with the Prosecutor’s Office - looking at financing, how the funds are spent, and how expenditure aligns with the tasks of the office.
We’ve been undertaking this kind of work with different parts of the judiciary for the past five years and have set some good foundations, which are bearing fruit.
In terms of the financing of the judiciary, lobbying by judges in 2014 resulted in more than a 200% increase in the budget, which has allowed in 2016 for things like improvements in buildings; the improving physical infrastructure is now more conducive to justice, the practical effects are being seen in courts, there are fewer opportunities for corruption in courts where direct access to the judges is more limited, allowing for greater efficiencies.
For the first time in 2016, there have even been resources for construction of two more remote courtrooms and refurbishing of many other buildings. In 2016, there was also finally budget allocation for the IT enterprise that was created with our assistance and which the judiciary is incorporating into its work to introduce e-justice and more efficiencies. The judiciary now has internal capacity to support, build and upgrade IT systems and has introduced automated case assignment and document flow systems. They’re moving into developing audio-video transcription of court proceedings, opening a new chapter in terms of justice and truth - or fairness - and addressing key rule of law issues.
In August 2016, the President signed a bill requiring judges to publish their decisions, really establishing a new level of transparency and accountability for the judiciary in Kyrgyzstan. 61 out of 73 courts have been fully equipped and trained to publish judges’ decisions, and the public can now access these in a totally searchable and accessible database, which also serves as a valuable tool for law schools and universities.
Back in 2010, a constitutional change ruled that all judges had to be re-confirmed. Over the following five years, 70% were replaced. Many didn't have prior training on how to be a judge. During this period, we have worked with the High Justice Training Center to ensure all judges and court personnel are trained and that the training center itself has the ability to generate and update their course materials.
In 2016, six groups of 20 ‘first-time’ judges - about half of all - underwent comprehensive, month-long courses on how to handle everyday issues they will face in the job; they are provided not only with training, but peer support as well. The remaining half will be trained in 2017.
Here in Kyrgyzstan, our partners and beneficiaries tell us that IDLO is a bridge or a coordinating and unifying force, we bring people together and bring new ideas. Our alumni say that they appreciate our ‘adult’ training style as opposed to the lectures they’re used to, because it’s more hands on, practical and collaborative.
It’s encouraging to see that the Training Center’s budget has increased tenfold in the past two years and they’re now in a position to sustainably manage all their core activities.
Traditionally in the EECA region as a whole, Ministers of Finance have tended not to understand the judiciary and its needs and the judiciary tended not to plan budgetary expenditure to achieve goal-oriented justice.
We’ve managed, through our work with the judiciary in Kyrgyzstan, to introduce forecasting and budget planning into the processes and have trained many judges and local experts to lobby for and defend budgets. Now, there’s a need to further institutionalise this. But in 2016, we saw the budget allocated to the judiciary grow from 0.77% of national expenditure in 2015 to 0.98 % approved for 2017.
They lobbied for this latest increase, independently of IDLO, and that’s very satisfying to see. Personally, I am very proud that we are finally seeing improved financing of the judiciary, it is not just a major achievement in itself, but has huge consequences in terms of infrastructure, training, and the independence and transparency of the sector.
I am very proud that we are finally seeing improved financing of the judiciary, it is not just a major achievement in itself, but has huge consequences in terms of infrastructure, training, and the independence and transparency of the sector.
The next steps are to ensure sustainability, to increase wages across the whole system so that everyone internally is dedicated to justice, as often salaries are insufficient to live on in this country and staff have to look elsewhere to supplement earnings. This is needed for the judiciary to become a real, independent branch of government without the influence or interference of other branches.
But, encouragingly, we are now seeing the pieces of the puzzle coming together.