Over 28 years of Ukraine’s independence the national justice system failed to become an independent branch of power.
Ukrainians consider judges to be corrupt and dependent on officials, and it is not surprising that courts have low public trust. However, regardless of how each individual judge behaves in this system, he or she is automatically perceived as a permanently corrupt person. Even if the judge is not related to corruption , it is a presumption of guilt assigned to him or her by public distrust.
Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, during his term of office, tried to subordinate to himself all the levers of governing the state. He wanted to single-handedly control the various branches of government, including the judiciary one. And at the same time he actively used to his advantage the distrust of the people to the courts.
A closed circle has been created in Ukraine , where a single judge is, on the one hand, under the pressure of political power, on the other – under the pressure of negative public opinion . Breaking this circle to the Ukrainian judicial system alone is no longer possible. Therefore, on October 22 in the European Parliament, located in French Strasbourg an international conference on the reform of justice in Ukraine was held. Ukrainian delegation included MPs, judges, human rights activists and community activists.
Members of the European Parliament came to the meeting from the part of the European Union .
In particular, Ukrainian MP representing the ruling party « Servant of the People » Oleksiy Zhmerenetsky shared his impressions on how the reform of the judiciary is underway. According to him, the issue of transformation of the judicial system is more urgent for Ukraine today than ever. Ukrainian society has already demonstrated a strong demand for justice , but unfortunately, the previous government has done very little to make these requests heard and implemented.
The main problem of justice in Ukraine is the high level of corruption, and in 2014, the European partners advised, first of all, to tackle this shameful phenomenon. To this end, several anti-corruption specialized bodies have been set up , such as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, the National Anti-Corruption Agency and others. The idea is clear, but the effectiveness of these bodies is questionable.
European experience shows that the creation of specialized bodies is not mandatory for the effective fight against corruption. For example , Estonia has simply created an Open State program, which included only a few ministries, and that was enough. A specialized body was set up in Bulgaria , but a number of prerequisites were met for its effectiveness , which was not fulfilled in Ukraine. In Lithuania, a Special Investigation Service was set up, and it is typical that the chairman of this body is appointed jointly by the President and Parliament.
Ukrainian realities of the presidency of Poroshenko distinguish among European countries so , that the president tried to personally control all the organs. A striking example is the story of NABU, whose chairman Artem Sytnik managed to become a contributor to several scandals, including one with the participation of the president. In 2018 journalists noticed that Sytnyk was visiting Poroshenko’s private estate at night, and there was not one such visit. And , by a strange coincidence, it was NABU which actively pressured those judges, whom Poroshenko disliked.
For example the head of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv Pavlo Vovk, who was present at the conference, also became au object of pressure. The cases, which involve public authorities, fall under the jurisdiction of the court. This court has the power to decide the question of the legality of a decision or decree of the highest state authorities of Ukraine. Realizing the importance of the court, Poroshenko with the help of the anti-corruption authorities tried to put pressure on the court, in particular on the head of the court.
Pavlo Vovk has been repeatedly tried in recent years to be accused of corruption, by providing false information in a declaration, and so on . These cases have always had loud media coverage. Although none is of charges for all the years have not been proven, the court all the time was forced to work under considerable pressure .
That is why judge Vovk spoke during his speech that the main element of an effective and fair judicial system is the independence of the court from the authorities and political forces. As Mr Vovk has extensive experience, he knows how important it is that every judge could decide , relying solely on the law, and not thinking about probable reaction from those in power .
The MEP Petras Auštrevičius also agreed with him. He said that Ukraine in order to move closer to the EU , must create fuses, which will enable the judiciary to keep independence, and allow every judge to feel safety .
The event in Strasbourg was organized by the Institute for Democracy and Development « PolitA ». During her speech , Director Kateryna Odarchenko emphasized that Ukrainian example shows how negative the impact of politics on the justice system is . According to her, a complete reboot of the courts should ensure that the conditions, under which judges will work, eradicate political pressures or artificially organized media campaigns.
The conversation with the MEPs was efficient and fruitful. The European colleagues shared their vision of reforming the justice system. The meeting discussed the way Ukraine went, the mistakes made and the ways out of the situation. Also, there were conversations after the official part with members of European Parliament such as Michal Simecka – Slovak politician, deputy and chairman of the party “Progressive Slovakia”, Ivar Ijabs – Latvian political scientist, Witold Waszczykowski – polish politician, Deputy Minister for foreign Affairs (2005-2008), Deputy head of the Bureau og National Security (2008-2010), Nathan Gill – political activist, member of British party “Brexit”, Petras Austrevicius – Lithuanian politician and diplomat, Vice Speaker of the Seimas of the republic of Lithuania.
The MEPs told that many European countries have gone the way, which Ukraine must pass. Making progress is real. Nevertheless, in order to create a system of fair justice, experts, experienced professionals who need to be free from political pressure, shall work actively. Only with such conditions it is possible to create a fair and impartial courts.