Do the Elderly have access to the justice system?
The Sociological Laboratory of the Kherson Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters recently carried out research to find out whether the justice system in Ukraine is available to the elderly. 200 respondents were surveyed from July to September this year from visitors to district courts in Kherson and a number of towns, villages, etc in the Kherson region. An absolute majority - 97% - were claimants, with the other 3% - respondents. This disproportion is due to the fact that most elderly people are forced to turn to the courts with civil suits against the authorities, first and foremost the Pension Fund, for pension payments, or the payments due, according to Ukrainian legislation, children of the War.
The questions were divided into the following main areas:
Knowledge of the law and legal aid
95% of those surveyed did not have anybody representing them in court. This indicates a major problem with the elderly unable to receive qualified legal aid.
Overall assessment of the court’s work
34% thought the work of the court was satisfactory; 29.3% - unsatisfactory. 18% gave the courts a “D” grade (bad); 15.8% - “good”, with 2.3% considering that the courts work “excellently”
Thus, the number of negative responses was greater (47.3%) but was still under 50%.
Most respondents 87% said that it had been easy to find the court buildings the first time (59.5% agreed completely with the statement regarding ease; 27.5% - partially.
78.5% also found it convenient to get to the court by public transport (51.5% totally agreed; 27% - partly).
However people living in rural areas complained of some degree of discomfort in getting to the courts, especially for elderly people forced to go there a number of times to hand in documents and stand in queues. One man, for example, complained that the reception hours are very limited and he had been forced to go from his village a third time just to be able to hand in his application. 12.7% overall said that it was not convenient to get to the courts, while 9% said they didn’t know.
Convenience within the court premises
53.3% answered yes, there were enough convenient places for waiting and organizing documents, however only 14.5% agreed with this wholeheartedly. 36.1% did not agree, with 9.5% of these totally disagreeing.
There was roughly the same proportion with regard to toilets, lighting, etc.
Whereas in the regional centre problems have largely been resolved in the renovated building, the situation in district courts was assessed much more negatively.
Level of information
Only 10.5% of the respondents had received comprehensive information about the rules within the court premises and during the court hearing. 19.5% were emphatic in saying that they had not received all information.
15% said that information stands gave samples of all necessary documents; 13% said they didn’t.
With regard to full information about the types, size and purpose of official payments, 16% were positive in their assessment, 13.5% negative.
Organization of the court’s work
This is a standard weak point and indeed 60.3% of the respondents consider that the staff do not give the problem enough attention.
There was considerable criticism, especially with regard to district courts, of the inconvenient hours of work, with 34.9% thinking they did not work long enough, this causing huge queues and forcing them to come many times, sometimes long distances.
The court fees were not overall a major problem with 59.8% saying they were acceptable. 12.6% had difficulty answering.
88.9% said that they could not afford a lawyer.
Principle of equality
Asked whether they felt treated with respect by the judge, a majority (43.6%) said no. while 17.9% said it was hard to say and 38.5% said yes.
40.3% of the respondents felt that the judge examining their case had not been prepared, while 33.8% thought that the judge had got to the bottom of their case well and prepared thoroughly.
Conclusions about whether pensioners’ rights are observed by the courts
From 36 to 72% of the respondents had experienced various infringements of their rights.
71.8% had not had the timetable for examination or postponement of court hearings agreed with them;
44.7% had not been properly informed of dates;
54.1% had experienced procrastination in examination of their cases, with some dragged out over several years;
People felt that they were not treated equally. 47.4% said that they were not given the opportunity to speak during the hearings; 51.3% - that they were not allowed to comment on statements made by the other side; 44.5% said that they were not treated with respect by the judge. Hearings could begin late (47.1%), even very late, or be suddenly adjourned without a proper reason being given (38%).
The only thing that did not give concern was the language of the court proceedings.
Views of the respondents on improvements needed
The largest number of proposals involved increasing possibilities for receiving legal assistance for the more vulnerable layers of society. 63.5% believed that there needed to be public centres attached to courts providing free legal consultations.
44% said that the amount and quality of information provided by the court needed to be increased.
Some suggested increasing the number of judges (29.5%) or using various forms of pre-court decisions in civil disputes (27.5%).
23.5% of the respondents considered that order in the work of the court could be created by drawing up an effective mechanism for prosecuting judges, or introducing changes of judges either through rotation (23.5%) or through cancelling norms on indefinite appointment (23%). 22% believed that another method would be selection of judges by the community or introduction of other mechanisms of control over judges’ work (for example, improving procedure on liability for infringements of oath (20%).
Slightly abridged from the report by Dementiy Bily, Head of the Sociological Laboratory