Criminal proceedings – from repressive norms to European standards

At an international conference on 18 May in Kyiv a draft Criminal Procedure Code and draft law “On the Prosecutor’s Office”, which European and US specialists were involved in drawing up were discussed. Some Ukrainian experts warn that implementing the reforms will not be easy.


Ukrainian investigators, courts and the prosecutor’s office work according to a Criminal Procedure Code [CPC] from 1961. Created to serve the needs of a Soviet repressive system, encumbered by a huge number of later amendments, the Code is making court proceedings more difficult and creating conditions for rights violations. This was the assessment of both Ukrainian and foreign law specialists taking part in the conference on “Prospects for Reform of Criminal Proceedings in Ukraine”. 


The new draft Code, drawn up in 2007, is based on world standards of court proceedings. It guarantees a suspect the right to a lawyer at any moment, without the permission of the investigator. It reduces bureaucracy and accelerates both the investigation and the trial, while the defence and prosecution in court have equal rights and work on an adversarial basis.


The US Ambassador in Ukraine, John Teffit stressed that a just and transparent legal system was the key to protecting human rights, overcoming corruption.  He added that it also encouraged investment, vital for Ukraine’s prosperity.


The Minister of Justice Oleksandr Lavrynovych informed that the draft laws would be reworked following the conclusions of the conference.  He said that this new version would then be tabled by the President for parliament’s consideration.


Stumbling blocks: changes are need to the powers of the Prosecutor and to the Constitution

Ake Petersen, representative in Ukraine for the Council of Europe’s Secretary General, pointed out that reform of the courts was not restricted to legislation and over the last several years 7 thousand Ukrainian prosecutors and 8 thousand judges had taken part in Council of Europe educational programmes.


However Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Yevhen Zakharov commented that there still needs to be the opportunity of applying European experience and there are still a lot of hurdles to be overcome before a European court procedure is introduced.


This, he says, is linked with the reform of the Prosecutor’s Office. The conflict of interests has not been resolved. The Prosecutor wants to retain the wide powers that they have, at most give up taking part in investigations. It is unclear how this will be resolved. He also believes that in order to implement many European norms of legal proceedings the Constitution needs to be changed, and that is a long process.

Ukraine committed itself to change the Criminal Procedure Code 15 years ago when joining the Council of Europe. The new Code was supposed to have been passed within three years, yet no draft law has yet got further than its first reading.


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