EU Delegation, civic society insist Ukraine show the door to dishonest Supreme Court candidates

Activists in monster costumes held a protest hear the building of the Supreme Court, holding a sign saying "This is no place for evil spirits." Photo: censor.net.ua

Activists in monster costumes held a protest hear the building of the Supreme Court, holding a sign saying "This is no place for evil spirits." Photo: censor.net.ua 

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As the selection process to Ukraine’s top judicial institution, the Supreme Court, enters its final phase, the EU Delegation and civic activists are calling on Ukraine’s final selection committee to show the door to 30 judges with a tainted reputation.

On 13 September 2017, 30 activists from the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR) and other NGOs dressed in judges’ robes and wearing monster masks held a march to the building of the Supreme Court in Kyiv, symbolizing the candidates who still try to enter the ranks of the reformed Supreme Court despite receiving a negative assessment from the public watchdog assembled to oversee Ukraine’s gravely needed judicial reform, the Public Integrity Council. The masks of “evil spirits” they were wearing represented the corrupt principles and values which the dishonest candidates can bring to the new Supreme Court. The activists called on the High Council of Judges, which has the final say on the appointment, to dismiss the 30 compromised candidates. One week earlier, the RPR issued a statement urging the High Council of Judges to not appoint the 30 judges, and calling upon three judges with conflicted interests to refrain from taking part in the process.

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One day earlier, the EU Delegation to Ukraine also appealed to the High Council of Judges, which started reviewing the list on 14 September,  to “ensure that only those candidates, whose integrity, independence and professional record are beyond doubt, are appointed as judges,” stressing that the Court doesn’t need all 120 candidates and can start operations with only 65:

The final decision of the High Council of Judges on the appointment of new Supreme Court judges is expected in the coming weeks.

This will be a historic opportunity for Ukraine to bring justice reforms in the country to a new level.

The EU has closely followed the selection process and has lent considerable support to the matter.

It is now for the High Council of Justice to ensure that only those candidates, whose integrity, independence and professional record are beyond doubt, are appointed as judges.

If this high standard is applied, it may well happen that not all of the foreseen 120 positions will be filled this year, but the Supreme Court can already start its operations if at least 65 judges are appointed. The appointment of even a few judges with tainted integrity risks compromising the credibility of the entire reform.

The creation of the new Supreme Court is a unique chance to rekindle public trust in the judiciary which Ukraine cannot afford to miss.

During the selection process, the Public Integrity Council presented evidence that 30 out of the 120 judges (i.e. 25%) selected to the Supreme Court have committed acts compromising their professional integrity. These acts include political persecution, having unjustified assets, serving business interests, denying the right to a fair trial, persecuting civic activists, and flouting the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

Despite the activists presenting their evidence to the High Qualification Commission of Judges, who conducted tests and interviews to select the candidates who would be appointed for life to the Supreme Court, which is Ukraine’s second, and final, Court of Cassation, the Commission admitted 30 candidates with compromised biographies to the final list. As well, they criticized the list for offering only a “light renewal” of the country’s top judicial institution, with over half of the candidates coming from outside the notoriously corrupt Ukrainian court system.

The position of government representatives differed. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko highly praised the selection process to the Supreme Court. As well, the Head of the Commission told Euromaidan Press that the unprecedented contest will finally give Ukraine a new judiciary. And a lawyer who made it to the final list of the Supreme Court told Euromaidan Press that the very fact of the top judicial positions in the country being appointed by means of an open contest and not by delivering bribes to the needed people was progressive already.

The judicial reform is key to Ukraine’s whole ambitious post-Euromaidan reform plans, as without honest courts the chances of ensuring any kind of justice are frail. The judiciary has a remarkably low level of trust in Ukraine. In April 2017, a poll by the Razumkov center found that courts were the second least-trusted institution/organization in Ukraine, being topped only by Russian media: a total of 7% of those polled expressed some level of trust in Ukrainian courts.

More information about the 30 dishonorable judges is available in these infographics by the RPR.

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