Uzbekistan Takes Steps to Enhance Access to Legal Aid for Vulnerable Populations with UNODC Support

Access to legal aid empowers individuals and communities, contributes to reducing poverty and promotes the protection of human rights. Legal aid ensures access to justice and supports the overarching objective of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind.

Strengthening the legal profession remains a core priority for Uzbekistan, given that the number of lawyers, approximately 4,000, is very low for a country with a population of over 33 million.

The current system of state-funded legal aid in Uzbekistan has several drawbacks. State-funded aid is granted only in criminal cases. Clear criteria to determine eligibility for legal aid are lacking. Mechanisms for State financing of legal aid providers are unclear.

To address these issues, the Ministry of Justice and the Chamber of Advocates launched a process for the development of a new law on legal aid. Following the development of the initial draft in 2018 and its presentation for public discussion in 2019, the draft law has been going through the government approval process.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been supporting the effort. This year UNODC conducted expertise of the draft bill in terms of its compliance with international standards in the field of access to justice. A recent webinar held in partnership with the Chamber of Advocates and the Ministry of Justice gathered over 35 defense lawyers, academia and representatives of civil society and the international community to present the UNODC commentary and discuss the way forward.

“The key objective of the Law on Free Legal Aid is to create access to legal aid for socially vulnerable groups of the population not only in criminal cases, but also in administrative and civil cases”, said Mr. Alim Ernazarov, Chairman of the Chamber of Advocates of Uzbekistan. “The draft law should be thoroughly reviewed and discussed by all stakeholders to create a foundation for a new legal aid system in line with international standards on due process and access to justice – emphasized Mr. Ernazarov.

The draft law provides for the creation of a unified system for managing, coordinating and regulating legal aid; ensures state-funded legal advice to socially vulnerable groups of the population in administrative and civil cases, along with criminal proceedings; determines the categories of persons who are guaranteed the right to receive free legal assistance; types, forms and methods of delivery of legal aid by lawyers, non-governmental organizations, legal clinics and other entities; as well as evaluation of the effectiveness and quality of legal aid services.

“We recently published the Russian version of our “Handbook on Ensuring Quality of Legal Aid Services in Criminal Justice Processes”, noted Mr. Koen Marquering, UNODC Central Asia Justice Program Coordinator. “This can be another useful resource during the development and further implementation of Uzbekistan’s legal aid law with a view to establishing an independent legal aid body and adopting quality control measures for legal aid”.


The United Nations Principles and Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems state that “legal aid is an essential element of a fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on the rule of law” and that “it is a foundation for the enjoyment of other rights, including the right to a fair trial, as a precondition to exercising such rights and an important safeguard that ensures fundamental fairness and public trust in the criminal justice process”.


The seminar featured presentations by Mr. Eldor Makhkamov, Deputy Chief of Department at the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Djamshid Turdaliev, Member of the Board at the Chamber of Advocates, Mr. Nikolai Kovalev, UNODC Expert and Associate Professor at the Wilfred Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, and Mr. Otabek Narziev, Professor at the Tashkent State University of Law, who discussed challenges and solutions in implementation of the Law on Free Legal Aid and the role of university legal clinics in provision of legal assistance to the population. Participants also learned about existing international models of legal aid systems from Ms. Anika Holterhof, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer from UNODC’s Justice Section in Vienna.

The webinar helped identify gaps in the draft law and put forward recommendations for improving the system of providing legal assistance in Uzbekistan. Recommendations made include the need to ensure the financial and institutional independence of the envisaged Legal Aid Center under the Ministry of Justice; enabling accredited non-governmental organizations to provide state-funded legal assistance; ensuring state funding to university legal clinics and giving them the right to provide not only primary but also secondary legal aid; and developing a code of ethics for legal aid lawyers.

The legal aid law is to be adopted in 2021 as provided in the National Human Rights Strategy of Uzbekistan, which was officially endorsed in June 2020. The Strategy and the Roadmap for its implementation envisage adoption of the law taking into account international standards and international experience in providing legal assistance, expanding access to state-funded free legal aid to low-income and other socially vulnerable citizens in criminal, administrative, and civil cases.

The webinar is part of the UNODC project “Support to Criminal Justice Reform in Uzbekistan” funded by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and implemented within the framework of the UNODC Program for Central Asia and its Sub-Program “Criminal Justice, Crime Prevention and Integrity”.



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