Selection of candidates to the Supreme Court reveals progress in and obstacles to judicial reform


Competition for selection of judges to the Supreme Court started in November 2016. As the judicial system used to be one of the most corrupt and “closed” in Ukraine, its reforming became one of the key demands that Ukraine’s civil society and international partners were putting forward. Civil movement “Chesno” decided to join and take action. Activists analyzed profiles of the candidates and prepared an analytical report.

Unscrupulous candidates trying to get into the Supreme Court

Out of 653 candidates taking part in the competition for the Supreme Court of Ukraine majority are from the old judicial system. Only a third of them are lawyers and researchers who were able to access the competition for the first time in Ukraine’s history. However, at the stage preceding the competition the Higher Qualification Commission of Judges screened out 45 per cent of such candidates, while only seven per cent of judges were denied access to the competition.

Therefore, 464 judges are competing for the seats in the Supreme Court with only 189 candidates from outside the system. The figures were presented by Lilia Drozdyk, head of communications department at the “Chesno. Filtruy sud!” (Honestly. Filter the court!) initiative during a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

“There is a lot of discouraging information about the candidates who have already been part of the system. According to our criteria, 70 per cent of the judges who are candidates to the posts are professionally disreputable. While out of the ‘non-judge’ candidates only thirty-five per cent show reasons for suspicion. The number of lawyers and scientists in the new court will demonstrate the success of the reform,” Drozdyk noted.

Criteria undermining integrity

Among the criteria that undermine integrity of potential judges are corruption, taking orders from the Yanukovych regime, mutual cover-up that helps avoid responsibility and return to the office, unscrupulous judgment, assets of dubious origin, criminal proceedings against the candidate, for example closed proceedings over road accidents with lethal cases, as well as the candidate’s ties.

Judges have a big number of relatives who work in law enforcement agencies. Ivan Pyatak, senior analyst at the “Chesno. Filtruy sud!” initiative has doubts as to whether a judge will be able to deliver just decisions in trials or an objective judgment in a criminal proceeding in case they have relatives in the Prosecutor’s Office.

Notorious candidates were able to pass first stages of competition

Unscrupulous candidates were partially sifted in the selection; however, some notorious persons still passed. For example, the Head of the Supreme Court of Yanukovych times who was calling “to protect the judges from pressure” that resulted in adoption of the “January 16 laws” (the so-called dictatorship laws limiting basic freedoms like the freedom of assembly – UCMC).

Galyna Chyzhyk, co-coordinator of the Public Integrity Council noted that the judicial reform starts from the Supreme Court and eventually gets to the local level. If the same judges who were building the corrupt schemes, adopting politically motivated decisions, led by their own interests and passively watching and tolerating corruption for years, will pass, then there are big doubts as to whether the reform can be successful.

The team of “Chesno. Filtruy sud!” passed the information on the candidates to the Public Integrity Council and the Higher Qualification Commission of Judges.