President deals another blow to chances for a transparent and independent justice system
On Thursday President Yanukovych signed Law №3932-VI on Amendments to Some Legislative Acts on Examination of Cases by the Supreme Court. In so doing, he ignored calls from civic and human rights organizations, as well as the Association of Ukrainian Banks, to use his power of veto.
The Law passed by the ruling majority on 20 October and now signed into law by the President sneaked in a provision which totally negates the very principle of a Single Register of Court Rulings. From now on, in accordance with Article 3 § 3: “The list of court rulings of general jurisdiction courts which are to be added to the Register is approved by the Council of Judges, after agreement with the State Judicial Administration. The Single Register of Court Rulings was created on the initiative of civic organizations against the wishes of many dishonest judges who were afraid of court rulings which widely available. That openness has now been removed, with judges able to decide what the public should or should not see..
Assertions that the law was passed in fulfilment of recommendations by the Venice Commission have little substance.
Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform points out that the grounds for review of cases remain the same (non-equal application of norms of substantive law by cassation-level courts, a judgement from an international court body finding that Ukraine is in breach of its international obligations; when examining a case in the court). What is more, the second role listed can be undertaken by the relevant high specialized court if Ukraine’s violation of its international obligations is the result of breached procedural norms.
Even more worrying are a norm and changes in the structure and numbers of judges of the Supreme Court which were not passed by the Venice Commission and which seem designed to either ensure that Vasyl Onopenko is not re-elected Head of the Supreme Court or, in any case, ensure that the Head has considerably less power. According to Roman Kuybida, “This law is thus the latest attempt by those wielding political power to establish total control over the Supreme Court. They are once again using legislative instruments for their own narrow political interests”.
The vote for new Head must take place very soon. This makes the briefing given earlier in the week by Mykhailo Havrylyuk, Deputy Prosecutor General and member of the High Council of Justice, in which he stated that some – unnamed - Supreme Court judges were being checked for breach of oath, seem at very best highly inappropriate, at worst – overt pressure. The Supreme Court’s response can be found here.