Ukraine’s Got Less Than a Month to Clean Up Highest Court
By the end of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency in February 2014, virtually all vestiges of judicial independence had been eroded in Ukraine, together with any public confidence in the justice system. Three years later, only a small number of the most corrupt judges have lost their posts. It is rightly difficult to dismiss judges, but it should be at least as difficult to appoint compromised judges. That was the theory behind promising new procedures for ensuring transparency and open competition for vacant Supreme Court judge posts. In practice, this has proved much less possible, and civic groups have mobilized to prevent yet another rejiggering of a reform-resistant status quo.
In 2016, the Verkhovna Rada adopted legislation that strengthened the role of the Supreme Court; it laid out steps to ensure a renewal process of its judges through competition. Applications were invited for the first 120 Supreme Court vacancies in November 2016, and full profiles of all candidates should have been posted almost immediately on the official website of the High Qualification Commission of Judges, but they weren’t. The Commission has claimed that it lacks the resources to do so; however, it has proven equally reluctant to provide information in response to formal queries.
The Commission’s resistance is particularly disturbing in light of the
Serhiy Kozyakov, the head of the Commission, has made much of the unprecedented participation of candidates from outside the judicial system. This can ensure new blood, but only if they are allowed to compete in the entire process. The selection committee quietly removed 45 percent of outside candidates before any tests were taken, while only 7 percent of current judges applying were not allowed to continue. This means that
While legal knowledge and skills are imperative, experience is not necessarily an advantage. In many cases, it seems likely that the candidates would prefer their past experience to be concealed.
Yaroslav Romanyuk was appointed president of the Supreme Court shortly before the Euromaidan began. He is remembered for
It is not only Romanyuk’s past that has alarmed critics. During one of the tests of candidates in February, it came to light that the case Romanyuk was supposed to examine as a test was in fact one he had previously ruled on. He has
Chesno’s Taras Shevchenko doesn’t understand how
On the first day of the written test, RFE/RL journalist Serhiy Andrushchenko
income declarations. Valentina Kurylo, a judge from a Donetsk oblast appeal court, couldn’t remember whether she owned the BMW she arrived in, and claimed that she didn’t know what her son-in-law, who drove the BMW, does for a living.
The next day the number of candidates who arrived on foot or by taxi significantly increased.
Time is short; the law requires the new Supreme Court to be in place by April 1. On March 1, Chesno and other civic groups decided they had had enough. They held
It all sounds good, but so did the initial assurances, and civic groups remain on high alert. A lot is at stake.