UN names three weak points in Ukrainian court system


The issue of reform of Ukraine’s judicial system is topical both within Ukraine and beyond.  Judicial independence was one of the most frequently mentioned during Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in October 2012. Member states gave Ukraine more than 20 recommendations on improving the situation in this sphere.

Yulia Shcherbinina, Manager of the UN Development Programme in Ukraine said that “the international community identified three weak points: the issue of the judicial system and judges’ councils, bodies of judges’ self-government; disciplinary commission; their makeup and others.  The second was selection of judges, in particular criteria and procedure. The third: accountability of judges, in particular independence in handing down verdicts.”

Other recommendations included calls to introduce fair procedure and criteria for appointing and dismissing judges; ensuring greater openness of court procedure.  Ukraine was called on to eliminate selective justice; restrict the powers of the Prosecutor’s Office; eradicate corruption in the judiciary; introduce a new CPC to ensure objectivity and independence of criminal justice; implement  European Court of Human Rights judgements and others.

Ihor Koliushko, Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform named three problems connected with judges’ independence: selection of qualified, honest and decent judges; judges’ own independence in carrying out their duties; problems in the internal system for dealing with unqualified judges. “If the first problem at the lowest levels was resolved, the reform went no further. All appointments to higher posts (where in fact final court rulings are passed) are made on the basis of personal trust”.

Kateryna Tarasava, Head of the Foundation for the Promotion of the Justice System said that the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Volkov v. Ukraine had clearly identified the problems and obstructions in Ukraine’s judicial system. The Court, she said, had provided its assessment of the system for disciplinary proceedings against judges and found that the judiciary was not sufficiently independent of other branches of power.  Nor are judges protected from a procedural point of view from abuse by disciplinary or related bodies, this being an undeniable hindrance to judges’ independence.

Dmytro Groisman, Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group believes that one problem is that judges are often former prosecutors, defence lawyers, etc. They retain, he says, horizontal links with the Prosecutor’s Office making it very difficult to speak of independence. He considers that lustration would to some degree improve judicial independence.

Stanislav Mishchenko, Acting Head of the High Specialized Court on Civil and Criminal Cases mentioned the workload which hampers the proper exercising of justice. Each judge of his court has around 100 cassation cases which he or she must deal with “in a reasonable timeframe”.

Mykhailo Tsurkan, Deputy Head of the High Administrative Court agrees. He says that in Ukrainian courts, a judge gets 1200-1300 cases a year, and that this is about stamping rulings, not justice. “90% of cases are those that shouldn’t get here at all. Nobody wants to agree that a case be dealt with in a district or appeal court. Everything must be ruled on by the High Administrative Court. We are driving ourselves into a dead end”.

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