Why are court rulings not available to all?
Is it worth taking the housing and communal services department to court when the radiators are cold? Can you get your job back through the courts if youve been unlawfully dismissed? Each year millions paid in taxes are spent on ensuring that we can get answers to such questions easily and free of charge. According to figures from the State Judicial Administration, the website www.reyestr.court.gov.ua is visited by four thousand people each day. Yehor Sobolev believes this to be too few if one considers that it provides people with access to court rulings handed down. His Bureau of Journalist Investigations decided to investigate why people are not receiving information.
The Law “On access to court rulings” was drawn up in 2005 by the then Deputy from the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko [BYuT], Vasyl Onopenko who is now Head of the Supreme Court.
We reported back in May 2006 that the procedure for keeping a Single State Register of Court Rulings had been approved by Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. 740. This stated that all copies of court rulings, with the exception of those declared state secrets, would be sent to the Single State Register.
Ihor Koliushko, Head of the Centre for Political and Legal Reform, which drew up the draft law, explains: “We wanted to ensure public monitoring of court rulings. We also understood that that could have a psychological impact on judges, discipline them”.
A new document was lying on Koliushkos desk as he spoke, with the title “Rubbish tip of court rulings?”. Also prepared by the Centre, it gives their assessment of what eventuated.
Whats not working?
The author says that after several days where there was virtually no heat in the centrally controlled radiators, he checked the Register, typing in the relevant period and the word “heating”. Surely someone must have taken the housing authorities to court. He tried other key words as well, each time getting the message that no results had been found meeting those criteria.
The author decided to check all rulings since the beginning of the year. If one is to believe the register, the court had not handed down any rulings.
In order to decide whether others are more successful, Sobolevs Bureau of Journalist Investigations, together with Roman Holovenko from the Institute for Mass Information, chose five cases of public interest where judgment had been passed. These were:
- A complaint by a woman over the demand to write her diagnosis on the medical certificate confirming that she was unable to work;
- Suspension by a judge of last years Decree from Yushchenko about early parliamentary elections;
- Accusations from the prosecutors office of officials over the Sknylivska tragedy (the terrible accident at an air show in Lviv in 2002);
- An appeal by Lviv residents against the housing and communal tariffs;
- The demand by 63 residents of Drohobych to declare unlawful the inaction of the City Council in not providing safe drinking water.
They approached a prominent law firm “Vasyl Kysil and Partners” and asked them to help find the rulings using the Register or the biggest commercial databases of legal information.
The firm found the following:
The State Register and the commercial database “NaU” had the ruling of the Lviv Administrative Court of Appeal regarding the Drohobych residents, but there was no indication as to whether this was final.
In the same two places they find the judgment of the Lviv Regional Economic Court regarding the Lviv residents. However it was stated that the ruling was being appealed in the Lviv Economic Court of Appeal, and that verdict was not available.
There was no information about the case of the “Sknylivska generals” or about the suspension of the Presidents decree in the Register, or any commercial database.
The ruling upholding the right to not have ones diagnosis given on medical certificates was only found in “Liga.Law” (both the first ruling from the Pechersky District Court in Kyiv and the final ruling of the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal). In the commercial database NaU and, most importantly, in the free State Register, there was no information. (Information about it in English can be found here: http://www.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1161893480 and at the URLs at the bottom of that page).
Why isnt it there?
According to Andriy Bodelan, Head of the State enterprise responsible for maintaining the Register, the law envisages no liability of the courts which can send the rulings or not. His company, “Information judicial systems” is also responsible for removing surnames from the rulings however the names of companies, surnames of officials taking part in the process as well as of the judges who pass the ruling should be given in the Register. The latter information is clearly of interest to any party to a case where the same judge is presiding.
According to “Information judicial systems”, out of 787 general jurisdiction courts functioning, 35 do not send their rulings at all.
This is not a question of money, just that the will is lacking. Almost all those that the author spoke with praised the Higher Economic Court. Long before the law was passed it created a full register of its own rulings and forced economic courts under its jurisdiction to do the same thing. This register is still considered the fullest in the country. One vital feature of this register, according to the person generally considered its author, Leonid Bohdanov (at the time Deputy Head of the Court) is that records are kept at the stage of processing claims and no claim can be registered without adding it to the register.
Yehor Sobolev states that unfortunately the management of the State Judicial Administration were unable to meet with them to discuss the question of will.
He points out too the difficulties with the presently available databases. Liga-Law, for example, chooses court rulings which its lawyers believe are crucial for business. “NaU” has far more rulings with more than 2 million, against the State Registers 3.3 million, however in everything else the difference between the State Register and NaU is immeasurable. The main difference is in the ability to find the necessary ruling using keywords and other options. The State Register has only one similar option, via a keyword, and it very seldom works. It would seem that this is possible if no more than 30 people are using the Register at the same time.
Another aspect of the problem seems to be in inadequate financing of software and modernization needed.
Abridged and in places summarized from an article by Yehor Sobolev,, Bureau of Journalist Investigations “Svidomo” at http://www.ogo.rv.ua/articles/view/2009-01-29/16151.html