Ongoing lack of judge independence

Over the last 15 years Ukrainians’ level of confidence in judges has halved, while the independence of judges’ work has been under constant jeopardy. These are the conclusions of the latest annual monitoring report on the independence of judges in Ukraine. Both researchers and representatives of the judiciary link these problems mainly with insufficient funding of the courts and attempts to restrict their powers. According to Head of the President of the Supreme Court’s Office, Mykola Melnyk, judges’ independence is impeded by the very procedure for their appointment, and the flaws in the judicial system are being artificially promoted by those who hold political reign.

Almost two thirds of the members of the public, the authorities and judges themselves surveyed in the monitoring considered the level of independence and impartiality of Ukrainian judges to be unsatisfactory.

  Similarly negative results were seen in the last study carried out by the Razumkov Centre.

  The authors of the monitoring report point out numerous ways in which Ukraine’s court proceedings fail to meet European standards.

  One such example, mentioned by 70% of the respondents, is in the systematic attempts to influence a judge’s position.

  According to co-author of the report and Deputy Head of the Centre for Judges’ Studies, Andriy Alexeev, the reasons for these problems are largely connected with the conditions which judges at present work under.

  He stresses that a reduction in judges’ independence correlates with a fall in the level of support from the public. Among those surveyed there were people who considered all judges, without any exception, to be corrupt.

  Andriy Alexeev considers the leaders from the point of view of contempt for the court to be the President, the Verkhovna Rada and big business.  He also points out that judges’ independence is jeopardized by the poor financing of the system. In the Budget only 20% of the amount needed for its normal work is actually allowed for, with less than half of that in reality being received.

  Mykola Melnyk is convinced that the main reasons for the low level of independence of Ukrainian judges are much deeper.

  “According to the present procedure for appointing and electing judges a serious degree of political pressure is possible. And those who become judges at the end of the day are often not those who are capable to withstanding temptation and pressure.”

  He adds that in Ukraine interference in the justice system is, if not constant, then very widespread.  In his view “the Ukrainian political elite have no interest in an unbiased and effective court because its presence would force them to act solely in accordance with the law”.

  Co-organizer of the Monitoring and Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office in Ukraine, Manuel Etter, believes that this vicious circle can be broken if judges themselves try. He says that in taking part in the Project “Supporting Judicial Reform in Ukraine”, they were shocked by the negative trends in Ukrainian judicial proceedings.

  He is, however, convinced that a greater level of public openness of Ukrainian courts and cooperation with civic associations could to a large extent safeguard them from pressure brought to bear by those in power.  He stresses that improvements are possible through the united efforts of judges and the public.

  Pilot projects for such reform of Ukraine’s judicial system, bringing it into line with European standards, with the participation of the Swiss Government, have already begun in the Donetsk and Zaporizhya regions.

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