European #Ukraine is impossible without European Justice

| October 23, 2019

Ukraine, which has been actively pursuing reforms since 2014, has not been successful in all areas. In particular, there are concerns about reforming the justice system. Now it has become a widespread opinion  that the situation in Ukrainian courts has not improved, that there are still manifestations of corruption in the courts, and the judicial branch itself has almost lost its independence.

During Poroshenko’s presidency, judicial reform was conducted in Ukraine . But trust in Ukrainian judiciary system is extremely low ; according to 2019 survey, only 14% of citizens, trust the judges. Such catastrophically low  indicator of confidence can not be a basis on which it is possible to build an effective system of justice.

In order to find a recipe for how to improve the situation in the judicial system, Ukrainian delegation visited  the European Parliament in Strasbourg at the autumn session and held an international conference. It was attended by Ukrainian MPs, judges, human rights champions and civic activists, as well as members of the European Parliament. The issue of Ukrainian justice was central to the discussion.

In the course of the discussion, Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Zhmerenetsky stated that in recent few years no deep changes were made in the justice system, as it is required by foreign partners and by the logic of the justice reform itself. Increasingly, courts and individual judges have appeared in the press under scandalous headlines, with allegations of corruption and other unlawful acts, however, no concrete evidence of such actions has been provided. So instead of reforming the structure, President Poroshenko used the topic of judicial reform to raise political ratings.

The estimations of the judicial reform carried out by the previous authorities are disappointing, and the participants of the discussion primarily see here the responsibility of the authorities. The participants of the dialogue agreed that the previous government had not given real independence to the judicial power, but instead tried to control it and used it for its own purposes.

Ukrainian MP Iryna Venediktova said that there were all indications that former President Petro Poroshenko constantly pressed the judicial system. For some kinds of such pressure he used anti-corruption authorities which pressured the judges to persuade them to act in the interests of the Administration of the President. In particular, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, which was established in 2015, is repeatedly blamed in the pressure on the courts. This body is supposed to be engaged in anti-corruption activities, but has shown very modest results . Instead, NABU and its leaders , often were found amidst of scandals and cooperated with the previous government. For example, in 2018, journalists noticed that the head of the NABU Artem Sytnyk visited the house of President Petro Poroshenko at night. The appropriateness of such visits can be talked about for a long time, however, when asked directly, Sytnik stated that he had talked to the President about the creation of an anti-corruption court. When he was asked how ethical and expedient it was to discuss such issues in private house at night, Sytnyk simply said that he had been invited by Poroshenko. In any civilized country, such conversations can only be made publicly and without any backstory .

In particular , political expert, director of the PolitA Institute for Democracy and Development , Kateryna Odarchenko , who was among the organizers of the roundtable, also said that the previous government tried to concentrate on itself all the levers of governing the state and to make dependent on itself those bodies, which should be a priori independent. She added that numerous scandals, which were widely broadcasted by TV channel had been often created artificially and were aimed at  th discreditation of certain individuals or even the whole organs . However, the media, which disseminated such content, could have been influenced by the former President.

Many judges have been held “like hostages” to the system and have been involved in scandals that obviously were not relevant. Most of these so-called scandals were media campaigns aimed at persuading certain judges to be engaged in unlawful cooperation and to make decisions that were beneficial to the previous government.

This, in particular, was stated by the Judge of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv Pavlo Vovk, who was also present at the meeting. He clearly told about the attempts of pressure on him, notably through the organs controlled by the former President.

It is important clarify the jurisdiction of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv; the government authorities is one of the parties to the disputes considered by the court. In this regard, the authorities wanted that all disputes arising from the participation of the state authorities were settled to the benefit of the authorities. Therefore, the authorities resorted to the pressure in which the NABU participated . In particular, the NABU initiated the criminal case against judge Vovk for , supposedly , incorrect data in the declaration, but a detailed study of the case against another anti-corruption body – the National Agency of preventing and combating corruption, found no violations.

The situation around this court, and many others , is pretty about direct unjustified political pressure on the courts with the aim to obtain their favor and make them carry out political orders. Human rights activist Sergiy Klets , who also attended the meeting, agreed with this statement . According to him, great distrust of the courts is a consequence of the lack of independence of the judicial system in Ukraine and the imperfection of the justice system in general. For example, the High Council of Justice now consists of people who are close to the previous President, and certain groups can use the body for manipulation and pressure. In order to increase the trust to the judges, he said, it is necessary to involve public figures, qualified lawyers and international experts from outside Ukraine to the High Council of Justice.

The MEP Petras Auštrevičius said that such a practice, when political power interferes with the judiciary, leads to usurpation and has nothing in common with democratic principles of social development.

“ When the court is compelled to obey the instructions of the political authorities, no fair justice can exist. In such circumstances judges become hostages to both the political system and the distrust of civil society, which is a shameful practice that should be stopped , ”- the MEP Ivar Ijabs said.

Thus, the MEP Witold Waszczykowski – polish politician, Deputy Minister for foreign Affairs (2005-2008), Deputy head of the Bureau og National Security (2008-2010) have expressed its full support for Ukraine in its quest to create a fair and independent judicial system.

” Ukraine has all the conditions to create honest, impartial justice, in particular , even at this table there are people who have the will, the desire and the professionalism to carry out the necessary reforms in  justice ,” – Witold Waszczykowski noted.

A striking example of how the previous government delayed the process of judicial reform is the case of the Special Anti-Corruption court, which began its operation only in September 2019, although it had been announced in 2014. This is a court under the jurisdictional which corruption cases fall, including bringing to justice government officials. Poroshenko’s power slowed down the work of this court for a long time , but once the new President assumed his duties, the body was launched and started working. That is, the creation of an anti-corruption court, and the implementation of the reform, depended, first and foremost, on the political will of the President, who, apparently, had no desire to make such changes.

In order to make Ukraine a full-fledged partner of Europe, it is necessary for the judiciary to be fully independent, justice should be carried out by professional, qualified judges who will serve the people, not political power. This is the practice of the EU countries, and history proves that anyone in power trying to tame the court, sooner or later becomes a person involved in criminal cases. And those who were charged under the instructions of the authorities, as a result , had been able to defend their reputation.

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