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July 17 серпня - Vol.11 No.13
URGENT request for voices!
In defence of Ukraine’s judiciary and democracy

There is a very high risk that Victor Yanukovych will sign into law a bill that makes all judges malleable putty in the hands of the Party of the Regions.

PLEASE, if you can, help by:

1) Circulating the material I’m sending. Endorsement from western groups and individuals, especially lawyers and business people (confirming they won't want legal putty determining the fate of their investments) could help.

2) Either signing our appeal or sending your own (or both) remembering that time is of the essence.

3) Providing me with contacts, especially among lawyers, NGOs etc who might be prepared to either endorse our appeal or write their own (but quickly).

4) Suggesting any media outlets who might agree to publish any format (or language, within reason).

5) Anything else you can think of.

It is critical for Victor Yanukovych and his supporters to get this bill through. He will sign it on Monday or Tuesday if he can.

It’s absolutely vital that this time there is outcry before it’s too late.

Many thanks in advance!


Halya Coynash
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Political Justice System

On 7 July 2010 260 members of Ukraine’s parliament voted to pass the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges”. The version is roughly that proposed by President Yanukovych within months of taking office, and contains extremely radical changes to the present system. Many of the new elements aroused serious concern so there was relief when the Government apparently concurred with Ukrainian and European specialists on the need to await the assessment of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

Given the long and depressing saga of judicial reform in Ukraine, the ruling coalition acted with blitzkrieg speed in passing a second and final version of the draft law after apparently receiving some – unpublished - comments on the first and different reading of the law from the Venice Commission. This suggests no shortage of political will to bring in changes, however whether these can be called judicial reform is quite another matter.

Since the law passed on 7 July contains all the likely threats to an independent judiciary and infringements of the Constitution criticized by Ukrainian specialists, the Co-Rapporteurs on Ukraine to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] and others, it is imperative that the President does not sign this law until the comments from the Venice Commission have been made public and questions answered.

An independent judiciary is vital for Ukraine’s democratic development and economic prosperity. Quite brutally, nobody will wish to invest in a country whose judges are puppets to politicians. Over the last month, the President ignored calls from the banking sphere, media and human rights groups to veto a disastrous bill on personal data protection. The following explains in brief why the consequences if this new law comes into force are even more disturbing.

The main areas of concern are focused on the means of educating, selecting and penalizing judges, and, connected with this, the increased power of two bodies with direct impact on such processes.

Ihor Koliushko and Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform have analyzed the bill just passed. They point to worrying divergence from European standards in the new system of judge education. There is little clarity regarding the new institutions which are now going to train judges, except that these are to be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. This entirely contradicts European standards since the Ministry is part of the executive branch of power, and cannot be considered an independent body. This change is all the more baffling since there is already an Academy of Judges (School of Judges in the new law) which fully complies with European guidelines in being autonomous and, in fact, already serves an educational function under the control of the judiciary.

It is disturbing also that these new specialized institutes for training judges are to have a say in the selection process of new judges, another innovation increasing not only scope for political influence, but also the likelihood of corruption. The new law has not added something noticeably absent in the law it replaces, this being any guidelines at all on how judges to higher level courts are appointed.

In their Information Note, the PACE Co-Rapporteurs on Ukraine specifically mention the need for a Venice Commission Opinion regarding the Law on the Judicial System (as well as the law amending the legislation concerning the High Council of Justice. “The speed with which this draft law was introduced and processed is raising some questions and doubts, especially as it contains a number of potentially politically charged provisions”. They point specifically to the considerably reduced role of the Supreme Court, presently headed by somebody seen as a close supporter of Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc and the sharply increased role of the High Council of Justice. The President’s recent appointment of Valery Khoroshkovsky, Head of the Security Service [SBU] and media owner to the High Council of Justice is singled out, especially given the “potential conflicts of interest as it is the State Security Service that is responsible for investigating any allegations against judges in Ukraine”.

It should be noted that Mr Khoroshkovsky has no legal background whatsoever, which is in clear breach of the requirements of the Law on the High Council of Justice, yet public calls on the President to revoke this strange appointment have been ignored. The role given this body is also at variance with that stipulated in the Constitution.

If the new Law comes into force, two bodies will gain very great power over the appointment, dismissal and general career movement of judges in Ukraine. As the authors of the above-mentioned analysis put it, “the High Qualifying Commission of Judges has received broad powers for forming the judge corps and bringing disciplinary proceedings against judges. We cannot exclude the possibility that following the example of the High Council of Justice, a fierce battle for the position of each member of the Qualifying Commission will ensue. … Clearly influence from the new regime on the formation of the High Qualifying Commission of Judges is inevitable”.

They suggest that it is reasonable to assume that there will be pressure regarding “the right judges” to appoint.

And where judges pass the “wrong” rulings, there is ample scope for disciplinary measures, which are again determined largely by the High Qualifying Commission of Judges and High Council of Justice. There are other parts of the new law which bring in seriously reduced time frames for examination of court cases. For those of us who remember Dickens’ “Bleak House” or have had experience of protracted court cases, this can seem positive. In fact, the changes could jeopardize the right of appeal for many Ukrainians unable to afford a lawyer. In a lot of cases the norms will simply be impossible to apply given judges’ workloads and serious financial constraints on the courts. They should not, however, be dismissed as empty words. Should a judge provide “the wrong ruling”, those words can turn into a very effective weapon.

The weapons against judges, and therefore against all Ukrainians and others interested in a real and independent justice system in Ukraine are manifold. Ukrainian analytical and human rights organizations are presently calling on the President to veto the bill. We hope that others will help impress upon the country’s leaders that any changes to the justice system must be in compliance with democratic standards of judicial independence.

Halya Coynash

Call on the President to veto the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges”

Open appeal to the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, calling on him to veto the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges”

Dear Mr President,

On 7 July 2010 the Verkhovna Rada, without waiting for the Venice Commission’s Opinion, hurriedly passed the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges”. This was supposed to be the beginning of the long-awaited judicial reform.

However, despite a considerable number of positive innovations, some provisions of the new Law do not, in our opinion, comply with the Constitution, European standards and the interests of citizens, and will render meaningless future reform.

The following do not comply with the Constitution:

- The functions of the High Council of Justice have been broadened, in breach of Article 131 of the Constitution, to include appointing and dismissing the heads of courts, as well as examining complaints from judges who have been refused indefinite tenure.

-  Retention of the President’s power to transfer judges, including those with indefinite tenure, in spite of the procedure established by Article 123 of the Constitution.

-  Unwarranted establishment of exceptions for appeals and cassation appeals against court rulings, ignoring the constitutional principles of court proceedings, stipulated in Article 129 of the Constitution.

-  The Supreme Court, which in accordance with Article 125 of the Constitution has the status of highest court within the system of courts of general jurisdiction, is stripped of effective possibilities for standardizing case law in these courts. The law removes its right to pass the final ruling in a case and leaves it the right to examine cases only in the cases of divergent application of material law, not procedural law. And only when the application for a review is allowed by the relevant High Court whose ruling is appeal to the examination

-  The retention and even extension, in violation of the constitutional principle of the division of powers, of the participation of the Prosecutor General and Minister of Justice in the work of plenums of high specialized courts and the Supreme Court.

The following are not in line with European standards

-  The placing of special training of judges under the control of the Ministry of Education, through the institute (faculty) of training of professional judges being part of higher national educational institutes of fourth level accreditation.

-  The fact that this institution which is dependent on the executive branch of power is to participate in the process of selection of judges;

-  The failure to stipulate objective criteria and a competition for transferring judges, including selection as high court judges.

-  The retention of an inquisition-style (not adversarial) procedure for bringing proceedings against judges, under which a member of the High Qualifying Commission of Judges or High Council of Justice is at once investigator, prosecutor and judge in relation to that particular judge.

The following are not in the interests of citizens

-  The possibility of court examination of a case without the participation of a person who was not notified of the court hearing, for example, through the fault of the post office;

-  Considerable reduction in time limits for lodging appeals or cassation appeals against a court ruling. In the absence of a system of accessible and effective legal aid, this will be a serious blow for people on low incomes.

-  Major reduction in time periods for examination of cases at each level to one or two months, and in some categories of cases to 20, 15 or even 5 days. The need to observe these periods will lead to violations of the procedural rights of the parties and to superficial examinations.

-  Removal of the right to ask for a judge to be removed where the circumstances which form the grounds for this become known after the examination has begun;

-  Entry into force of the Law from 15 July 2010 which will give neither lawyers nor judges the opportunity to become familiar with the procedural innovations.

If you sign the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” in the version passed, citizens will receive a swift, but unfair justice system from dependent judges.

Since you have posed an entirely different aim for judicial reform – of ensuring just court proceedings and true independence of judges, we call on you to return the Law to the Verkhovna Rada with your proposals aimed at bringing its provisions into line with the Constitution, European standards and the interests of Ukraine’s citizens.

You can add your voice to our appeal by writing to nopoliticaljustice@yahoo.com

The risk to Ukraine’s judicial system is great and time short. If you can help by supporting our appeal, and circulating it to others, we would be very grateful!