Kyiv, 14 January 2015 – Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the bill #1656 “On the right to a fair trial” in the first reading during the yesterday’s plenary session. The Judicial Reform Council devised the bill, while the President of Ukraine submitted it to the parliament. Members of the Council – Oleksiy Filatov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and the coordinator of the Council, Volodymyr Butkevych, retired Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, and Virgilijus Valančius, representative of the EU’s “Support to Justice Sector Reforms in Ukraine” project, commented on the main provisions of the bill during the press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
“This bill is the first step toward the judicial reform aimed at providing a real opportunity to protect citizens’ rights so that every citizen could expect a fair and just resolution within reasonable time,” Mr. Filatov said.
Volodymyr Butkevych noted of the bill’s compliance with the judicial international standards. As a person who has a history of working in the reform councils and commissions, Mr. Butkevych emphasized that previously the first meeting of similar councils dealt with the wants of the president. “The end result was either everything what he wanted or nothing at all. This time we started the work of the Judicial Reform Could not with what the President wanted, but with our own vision of reforms in the judiciary. The President did not make any amendments to the bill proposed by the Council, which shows that he is really eager to empower the professional community to solve the most pressing problems,” assured Volodymyr Butkevych.
“The medium and long-term reform strategy should be developed further,” Virgilijus Valančius added. Mr. Valančius also expressed confidence that the constitutional reform in Ukraine will be carried out in accordance with the European standards.
According to the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, the bill substantially changed the selection process of the judges. It becomes as transparent as possible: candidates to all posts in the court are required to pass a public and transparent competition hosted by the High Qualification Commission of Judges. The Commission holds the ultimate power whether to appoint the judge to a particular post. The High Qualification Commission of Justice sends recommendations to the President of Ukraine or to the Parliament, depending on the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches devised in the Constitution. Mr. Filatov explained that “These constitutional powers will not be changed now, as they have to be included as the constitutional amendments,” Mr. Filatov explained.
The judge’s career will depend solely on his or her professional growth. In order to take up a post at a top-tier court, he or she has to demonstrate the possession of particular skills required to become a judge at the Court of Appeals or the Cassation Court. The current legislation does not specify what kind of criteria the President or the Parliament of Ukraine should consider in order to issue their decision. In addition, all judges will go through a mandatory evaluation of their performance. It starts from the Supreme Court judges who have to be evaluated within six months after the bill comes into force. Later on, judges of the Supreme Specialist Courts, the Court of Appeals and first-tier courts would be evaluated.
Mr. Filatov added that the bill strengthens disciplinary measures for all judges. “The bill expands the list of reasons which may result in the disciplinary actions for the judges. The bill states 14 specific reasons, including the denial of access to justice for the citizens, such as an unreasonable return of application or complaint, which happens quote often today”. The bill expands the list of disciplinary actions that may be applied to the judge. The current law allows only reprimand or dismissal of judges as a penalty for their misconduct. “The current system does not leave room for objective evaluation of abuse and application of an appropriate disciplinary action. The bill outlines clear mechanisms for sanctions that depend on the severity of the offense committed by the judge. “
The bill “On ensuring the right to a fair trial” minimises any external influence on the judiciary, which has been achieved through a public and transparent mechanism of selecting the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges. All candidates will be announced in advance. They will have to provide complete information about themselves including how they satisfy the selection criteria set by the anti-corruption legislation. Besides, members of both the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges are not allowed to combine their positions with any other activities other than scientific, teaching and creative.
“This bill strips all state authorities, including the President and the Parliament, from their political leverage over judges. The subjects delegated by the constitutional authority to appoint members of the High Council of Justice will do so in the course of a transparent selection,” Oleksiy Filatov said.
Every citizen will be allowed to attend any trial, as well as have access to any court decision, once the bill comes into force. All court resolutions will be published in the State Register which is available for free via the Internet.
The Supreme Court of Ukraine is getting additional powers in order to have a unity of judicial practice. The Supreme Court will independently decide whether to review particular cases. The bill also provides mechanisms to exclude the possibility of making inherently different judgments on the same issues by different chambers of the Supreme Court, which still happens today.
At the end of briefing, Mr. Filatov told that the law “On ensuring the right to a fair trial” is the first step toward a comprehensive judicial reform. The next step should be the reform of procedural justice, Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on the structure of the judicial system, as well as the issues connected with advocacy, executing of court resolutions, free legal aid and other important aspects.
Bill № 1656 was developed by the Judicial Reform Council that involved the representatives of all spheres of legal community and civic society – legal academics from the top Ukrainian universities who teach law professionals, practicing lawyers and barristers who are familiar with the practical dimension of the problems an ordinary citizen encounters in court, representatives of international expert organizations, civic Ukrainian experts from the Reanimation Package of Reform and the “New Country” initiatives.
President of Ukraine submitted the bill №1656 “On ensuring the right to a fair trial” to the parliament in late December 2014.
288 MPs voted in favour of the bill №1656
Apart from the bill №1656, another bill № 1497, which has been developed by the Reanimation Package of Reforms civic initiative experts in collaboration with Ukrainian MPs, was adopted.