Kyiv, November 19, 2015. The mechanism for renewal of the judiciary has been launched. This adheres to European principles while creating a judicial majority at the High Council of Justice (HCJ). This is not in the majority of lobbying judges’ interests, but beefs up disciplinary proceedings and appointing new judges based on best practice, said Ihor Benedysiuk, the Head of the High Council of Justice, during discussion entitled ‘Renewal of Judiciary: present and future’ at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Benedysiuk said that in response to public demand for renewal of the judiciary, the HCJ started working on hearing cases of an Interim Special Commission (ISC), while there are another 2800 cases in line. “Most cases in this category have already passed the disciplinary procedure […], judicial proceedings have been initiated for all the cases, and about 30% of ISC conclusions have been heard. In some 70% of the cases we supported the ISC’s ruling on bringing judges to accountability and dismissing them,” said Benedysiuk, referring to the first results of HCJ work.
According to Serhiy Koziakov, Head of the High Judicial Qualifications Commission of Ukraine, the commission is authorized to conduct assessment of judges of the Supreme Court of Ukraine and superior specialized courts, totaling 330 judges. Nevertheless, the corresponding legislative instruments are to be developed, one of them referring to the procedure of keeping a file on judges. “It is a new instrument, we have not done it before,” said Koziakov. “The state judicial administration has already passed over 2 thousand judges’ files to the High Judicial Qualifications Commission. There are still two documents to approve: Procedure and methodology for judges’ qualification assessment and the Procedure for holding examinations,” informed Koziakov. He said there are two stages of assessment: holding an anonymous examination and studying a file/interviewing the judge. “These two documents are to become a basis for assessment. Nevertheless, the Judicial Council has not approved them yet. We took into account 86 proposals of the Judicial Council for the first document and 68 for the second. There are still some nuances, but we believe if we agree to these changes, it will lead to violation of the law. So we stopped at this point,” elaborated Koziakov. If we fail to get approval of the Judicial Council, there is a draft law envisaging approval of the procedure for initial assessment by the High Judicial Qualifications Commission of Ukraine at its sole discretion.
Head of the High Judicial Qualifications Commission of Ukraine emphasized that a number of procedures pertaining to judges had been finalized. “Unfortunately, the renewal is taking place amidst war, occupation and annexation. On November 10 our commission made a decision to recommend the High Council of Justice should initiate a question of oath-breaking by 283 judges from Crimea. Moreover, we passed a decision on oath-breaking by 20 judges from the Donetsk region yesterday. In our opinion, they unlawfully became self-proclaimed judges at self-proclaimed courts of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’,” said Koziakov.
Mykhailo Zhernakov, the expert of Reanimation Package of Reform emphasized all the judges are to pass a transparent competition procedure. “The parliament is to issue an act of creation of courts […]. We are to switch to the three-stage court system, as recommended by the Venice Commission, which is a usual European practice. There must be one cassation court instead of four we have at present,” said Zhernakov. He also added that judges are to be accepted on a completive basis only.
Volodymyr Kravchuk, a judge of Lviv Administrative Court, emphasized that the issue of renewal of the judiciary is politically charged at present. “Verkhovna Rada holds its constitutional authority, as well as responsibility, to consider issues on electing judges. Nevertheless, the parliament has been failing this solution for over two years now, for some obscure reason not known to the public,” said Kravchuk. Moreover, the judge said there are about 400 judicial offices at present and he suggests competition for them must be absolutely open. “Should this peculiar legal experiment prove these people are head and shoulders above, work better, know more and gain more trust from people, we will be able to use this positive experience for vacancies,” suggested Kravchuk.
Open competition is a new practice at public prosecution reform. Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine David Sakvarelidze joined the discussion via Skype and informed of the state-of-the-art of reform. According to Sakvarelidze, 2550 senior positions at city, district and interdistrict prosecution will be renewed on a competitive basis. “Public prosecution reform is a very important leap, the beginning and the guarantee for reorganization of entire system of public prosecution,” he said. Sakvarelidze informed that downsizing of the entire prosecution system is in progress. “We were not afraid. Eighteen months ago we had a record number of officials, 22,500 people, then we downsized to 18,550 and then to approximately 15,000. Following the first (local) level of reorganization, there will be only 12 thousand officials at public prosecution this year,” said the Deputy Prosecutor General. He also emphasized that financing still remains a vital issue, for prosecutors’ salary of 4-5 thousand hryvnias makes it impossible to speak of elimination of bureaucracy and non-corrupt public prosecution.