Forget judicial overhaul: for court presidents it’s business as usual
According to the head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court, Yaroslav Romanyuk, secret voting in courts at all levels has in 80% of the cases resulted in the court presidents retaining their posts. He explained that a change in legislation had meant that not only the head of the Supreme Court, but of the majority of courts, are now elected by the judge corps.
He said that these elections were still ongoing, but as far as he knew in about 80% of the cases they had resulted in the court presidents previously appointed by the High Council of Justice retaining their posts. In some other cases there had been a change, and some have yet to hold a vote.
In a short assessment entitled “Will judges be able to prove the ability to be independent?”, Roman Kuybida from the Centre for Legal and Political Reform explains that the Law on judicial overhaul passed in early April resulted in all heads of courts and their deputies losing their administrative posts, though of course remaining judges of the relevant courts. The judge corps of each court gained the possibility to themselves elect the court heads and their deputies. It did not, however, establish any methods for ensuring that the outgoing heads and deputies were not simply reinstated via a vote.
Kuybida writes that judging by reports in the media, dirty methods were often applied to ensure that the same judges retained their posts: bribery; spoiling voting papers; pressure on judges. In many courts no alternative candidates were put forward with judges worried about negative consequences if they lost to the supposedly outgoing heads.
This does mean that a large number of court presidents installed under the previous regime to ensure malleable judges remain in their places. It was only the high specialized courts which saw a shift, largely due to public pressure.
Kuybida points out that their interviews with judges found that until recently it was specifically court presidents who exerted the most pressure on them. They used various forms of coercion to ensure that a case was resolved as they wished, including suggesting that the judge take leave or sick leave so as to hand the case over to somebody who would rubber stamp the ruling they wanted.