A romanticised blog by Tako Kobakhidze submitted back in 2017, introduced me to the digital transformation that has occurred at Yasamal District Court of Baku City in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The court, operational since June 2017, is one of the pioneer “smart courts” that were designed and built as part of the Judicial Services and Smart Infrastructure Project – a World Bank-supported project designed to improve access, transparency, and efficiency in the delivery of selected justice services in Azerbaijan.

Project Description

The Project will comprise four components:

  • Judicial service delivery improvements (e-services)
  • Strengthening institutional capacity (training)
  • Expansion and modernisation of justice infrastructure 
  • Project management and coordination
In relation to judicial service delivery improvements, a recent report has shown that the time taken to enforce contracts through courts in old courthouses/no access to e-court systems was 242 days and that in courthouses benefitting from smart infrastructure/e-court systems, the time taken was 209 days. In addition to this, e-filing saves litigants and their lawyers time, avoiding traffic and queues. Fortunately, though, citizens who still wish to use a printed form or who would feel more comfortable submitting their documents in person, are able to do so (and it has not been made mandatory, unlike other jurisdictions). According to the same report, users expressing satisfaction with access, transparency and efficiency of selected justice services has increased from 0% in June 2014, to 47.5% in January 2018. The Project team are on track to reach their target of 50% by December 2018. 

In terms of training, learning sessions take place at Court and judges are required to sit tests and exams. In the words of Judge Ramin Gurbanov, “education equals independence”. In this same vain, Azerbaijan is sharing their learning with their neighbours, as part of a wider effort to be seen as one of the leaders in the region in Information Technology and its application to a variety of sectors. Azerbaijan is also partnering with the Slovenian Supreme Court, to launch an application to automate the filing and processing of small-value high-volume civil enforcement cases.

Little information is available on the back-end or how the system was developed. Will keep ears and eyes peeled as it is these types of developments that will hopefully tackle concerns that Azerbaijan’s embryonic democracy is under threat.